A 2hr+ train ride from Kyoto station brought me to Kinosaki Onsen of Hyōgo prefecture. This is a famous onsen town in Japan but probably not super well known to foreign tourists. For my Kansai trip this year, I was keen on having a nice ryokan stay and another objective would be to check out Himeji castle since it just opened this year. I was doing my research about Hyōgo and I learnt about this town. Everything about it seemed perfect for my itinerary so here I am! This onsen town has been rated 2 stars by the Michelin travel guide.
It’s not my first time in Hyōgo as I’ve been to Kobe before. Hyōgo is probably not as popular as Osaka, Kyoto and Nara for foreign visitors to Japan, but the beauty is not to be belittled. Kobe is probably not the best place to start with because it’s like a pretty boring small city with lot’s of concrete (since it’s an important port city of Japan) so you need to travel out to the outskirts for hidden gems in Hyōgo.
With “onsen” in it’s name, it is obvious that Kinosaki Onsen is famous for it’s natural hot springs. The whole area near the station has been developed into an onsen town and visitors come here with the objective of having an onsen getaway in a traditional ryokan.
Streets of Kinosaki Onsen are filled with retail shops selling local products. Even without attractions you can enjoy an idyllic stroll around the town all day.
I was spoilt for choice with so many attractive ryokans to choose from and it was really tough – I took weeks and months to decide and my initial choice ended up being fully booked when I finally decided a little more than a month before my trip. However, I managed to decide on something good eventually and I think it was the perfect decision in the end!
I selected 三國屋 Mikuniya for various reasons –
- Location is 3 minutes walk from the station
- Food looks attractive
- Reasonable price (starting from ¥30,240 for 2 pax)
- Girl’s only package – for girls you get to wear colourful yukata for free and you get a welcome pack with facial masks, soap and also a pudding for dessert after meal.
I later found more reasons to love this place such as private onsen available for free to guests and the impeccable service.
Wearing a colourful yukata is way more fun than the standard dark blue ones everyone else is wearing! (By the way, I like how a plasma cluster air purifier is placed in the reception.)
Mikuniya is a really small ryokan, boutique like, and there are no elevators. The staff kindly carried our heavy bags up the stairs for us and I appreciate this gesture. I’ve not stayed in a small ryokan before but I like the homely feel of this one. The service is more personalised due to the small scale of operation.
The room is quite small but in very good condition and comfortable for 2. There isn’t an en suite shower but in Kinosaki Onsen, everyone bathes in the onsen. Private onsens are provided for usage at Mikuniya so privacy isn’t a problem here.
The lovely staff helped me change into my yukata and brewed some sencha. I’m loving this town already! Didn’t spend much time drinking tea because I wanted to venture out asap.
Tabi socks were given for free and that’s really nice of them because I noticed most other people from other ryokans didn’t have them. It was cold and the socks really helped! I also liked how floral Geta (clogs) were provided. Most other ryokans only provided standard looking ones. If you’re a girl, I highly recommend staying at Mikuniya because the experience won’t be half as fun without the prettier yukatas and geta.
Strawberry soft serve from one of the shops along the path. I walked around the area basically checking out shops and bought some sake for dinner and warabimochiko from a supermarket to bring home. I’m surprised they have a supermarket here so it’s not really a tourist trap! I can get bottled water without being obscenely overcharged.
If you stay at any ryokan, you’ll get a pass to visit any of the 7 big onsens in Kinosaki Onsen town. I didn’t however, because I didn’t want to change out of my Yukata. I preferred the private bath anyway.
Dinner time! Dinner is either 6pm or 6:30pm, and will be served in the room. I’ve not experienced in room dining for any of my ryokan stays before. It was always in a dining hall each time. I am pleased to experience something different this time.
Lovely spread. The meal plan for the girl’s package was the standard kaiseki meal with items from mountain and sea but since this is the Tajima region, I wanted to have Tajima beef (similar to Kobe beef). I upgraded the meal to Tajima Beef Shabu Shabu for ¥4320 (2 pax) and I highly recommend doing so. Other options includes crab course, abalone course and steak course.
Awabi, smoked duck and ika
I love that amaebi.
For the shabu pot.
This portion is for 1 person! I love the generous amount. To get such quality beef in this quantity in Singapore you can be prepared to pay $200.
Just look at that marbling!
Got this bottle of sake from an alcohol shop along Kinosaki onsen. It was around ¥600 for this. Refrigerator and sake glasses were provided in the room. I love the freedom to BYOB for dinner! I guess this is always possible for dining in your own room. And the sake was good.
Absolutely loved my dinner experience here.
Unlike sukiyaki, the broth used here is like plain water. You are not expected to drink anything, but to only use it for blanching your meat briefly.
Pear for dessert
And pudding, only for girls. Because girls like pudding.
There are more perks for women like free usage of O.P.I nail polish or facial steamers, available at the front desk.
I booked my private bath at 10pm that was enough time for my food to digest. They have 3 private baths to choose from and you can see what they look like here, because who brings a camera to bathe.
Mikuniya Ryokan 三國屋
221 Yushima , Kinosaki-cho , Toyooka-city , Hyōgo, Japan
Breakfast only commences at 8am so I had no choice but to skip it because I had to catch a train departing at 7:13am. The plan was to go to Himeji castle in the morning, locking my luggage at Himeji station’s locker before heading to Osaka for the afternoon and evening. There are only 3 trains from Kinosaki Onsen to Himeji and the next one would be at 2:13pm, which is too late. The journey took 1h 42 mins on the express train.
The castle is walk-able from the station but you can choose to take a bus.
Lovely moat and some leaves changing colour, telling me it’s Autumn.
First glimsp of the white castle.
After passing the moat, this is what you’ll see. For castle visits, do remember a lot of walking is involved, on uneven grounds. Castles are not meant to be easily accessed and for such a big one like Himeji castle, it’s even tougher. To keep it real, they did not install an elevator like Osaka Castle did. Entrance to the castle is chargeable at ¥1000 or ¥1040 with access to Koko-en (Japanese garden) nearby. I took the latter.
I was in luck to catch these October Sakura! I’ve seen these before in 2013, at Ibaraki. The bloom here is fresher though!
The sakura makes my castle experience even better. I’ve yet to see sakura in spring so this is consolation.
Climbed steep steps up the main keep of the castle and here’s the view.
After exiting the main keep, here’s a nice picture of the castle. It was early when I arrived but by the time I exited, there were long lines and a lot more people. Tip: Go as early as possible! 9am is the opening time and it’s ideal.
It’s huge alright?
Can’t get enough of the beauty. It’s way better than any other castle I’ve seen. Perhaps it’s because it’s freshly refurbished.
68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
In Koko-en, maple leaves are turning orange.
The garden was quite big and very beautiful. Definitely worth the additional ¥40. The admission fee for Koko-en alone would be ¥300.
They have a tea house within the garden and this is a wonderful idea because the ambiance is perfect for tea ceremony.
This view from within the tea room.
Matcha and wagashi cost ¥500.
Instructions are provided with English translation and romanji.
Koko-en Garden 好古園
68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan
Kansai area produces good wagashi like warabi mocha for instance, and since Himeji is part of this area you can find wagashi shops fairly easily, especially near the castle area.
Glad to find a Freshness Burger within Himeji station area so I get to enjoy my favourite salad and burge en route to Osaka on the Shikansen. I didn’t sight see in Osaka and I spent my time eating and crazy shopping. There won’t be any travelogue posts for it this time, just food reviews.
I loved my 24 hours in Hyōgo and highly recommend these places for a side trip out of Osaka or Kyoto!