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Exploring the Idyllic Onsen of Woodland Kyoto

2022.01.20

Visiting an onsen (hot springs) is not only a quintessential Japanese experience, it can also be a wonderful chance to discover some beautiful parts of the country that are off the main tourist track. Woodland Kyoto, just to the northwest of Kyoto City, is a fantastic example of this. In addition to relaxing onsen where you can bathe and unwind in mineral-rich waters, the region is home to historic temples, picturesque shrines, and stunning areas of natural beauty. To help you plan your trip, this article will introduce four of the top onsen in Woodland Kyoto, and highlight a selection of the best sightseeing spots to explore while you’re there. You’ll be packing your bags in no time!

What is an onsen?

For those who are not familiar with the concept, an onsen is a hot spring where you can bathe in water that’s naturally heated underground. As well as being blissfully warm, the water is usually abundant in dissolved minerals that vary from location to location. In addition to affecting the colour and scent of the water, specific minerals are said to bring different health benefits to bathers. These include everything from helping with skin ailments to lowering blood pressure. In the vast majority of onsen, you bathe naked and the baths are segregated by gender. Don’t worry if you feel apprehensive about this though, because any discomfort will soon melt away as you relax in the rejuvenating hot water! Alternatively, many onsen have private baths that you can use on your own or with your group so you don’t have to disrobe in front of strangers.

Onsen etiquette

There are a few etiquette rules and tips to be aware of when using an onsen, to ensure you have the best experience. For example:
• Wash yourself in the showers before entering the baths themselves
• Tie up long hair so that it doesn’t go in the water
• Leave the big towel in the changing room, and take the small one with you (but keep it out of the water)
• Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before and after you bathe
• Many onsen do not allow tattoos, so if you have one either cover it up with a plaster or use a private bath
• Enter the water slowly to allow your body to get used to the heat, and don’t stay in too long if you’re not accustomed to it
• Don’t shower after you’ve finished bathing, because this will rinse away all the health-giving minerals

So now that you know what to expect, let’s look at some of the places where you can enjoy the onsen experience in Woodland Kyoto!

Yunohana Onsen

Located in an atmospheric mountain village in Kameoka City, Yunohana Onsen offers a peaceful environment surrounded by stunning natural scenery. The water here is reported to be good for everything from fatigue and sore muscles to gout, arthritis and nerve pain thanks to the levels of radium it contains. You’re sure to feel your aches fading away as you lie back in an outdoor onsen crafted from wood or stone, looking up at a canopy of leaves above your head. There are several traditional ryokan (Japanese inns) here that you can stay at if you want the full experience, including those that have rooms with private baths. Many also allow you to use their onsen facilities as a day guest, which can make for a relaxing afternoon after a morning of sightseeing.

  

Speaking of sightseeing, there are a wealth of spots near Yunohana Onsen that are worth visiting. Izumo Dai-jingu Shrine is most famous for bringing luck in matchmaking, longevity and fortune, and there are lots of interesting features to discover in the extensive grounds. Further south, Anao-jo Temple boasts a beautifully scenic garden and a Buddha statue said to have healing properties. Depending on the timing of your trip, you could also admire the eight million flowers in the Yume Cosmos Garden as they burst into spectacular colour in October and November. Meanwhile, the Yawaragi no Michi Sakura Park is a stunning place to admire the ethereal sight of cherry blossoms in spring.

Access: Take the JR Sagano Line from Kyoto Station to Kameoka Station, then hop on a 15-minute shuttle bus to the onsen

Ayabe Onsen

Ayabe Onsen is in the Kanbayashi area of Ayabe City, surrounded by lush forests and rich greenery. At the Niou no Yu hot springs you can bathe in a beautifully scented cypress bath, which is sheltered whilst also offering panoramic views of the countryside.

  

Here the water is believed to have skin-beautifying properties, and there is also a special medicinal bath with added herbal ingredients for even greater health benefits. In addition to the resort facilities, Ayabe Onsen has a campsite, golf course, tennis courts, BBQ spots, and even a giant labyrinth to explore!

If you wish to venture away from the onsen itself for some sightseeing, be sure to visit Komyo-ji Temple. Its buildings and gardens are fascinating to explore, with the grounds becoming especially picturesque in autumn when the leaves change to fiery red and vivid amber. Another breathtakingly beautiful spot is the Shaga Forest in Oitomi – visit between the end of March and mid-April when the woods are carpeted with buttery yellow oriental paperbush flowers, or in May when countless fringed irises come into bloom. If you’re a fan of flowers, you should also stop by the Ayabe Rose Garden (Gunze Square), where approximately 1,200 roses of 120 varieties have been planted by local volunteers. Meanwhile for a more hands-on experience, book onto a workshop at the Kurotani Washi Cooperative to have a go at making traditional washi paper by hand.

Access: About 40 minutes by Aya Bus from Ayabe Station on the JR San-in Main Line/Maizuru Line

Ayabe Onsen

Ayabe Onsen

Ayabe Onsen Nio-no-yu, surrounded by the nature of Kanbayashi in Ayabe, is a natural hot spring that boasts a rich and incredibly effective set of hot spring ingredients that is one of the finest in k …

Fukuchiyama Onsen

The castle town of Fukuchiyama has plenty to discover, from sacred shrines to epic natural beauty, so a trip to the local onsen is ideal for refreshing your body after exploring. The water in this region is rich in sodium and calcium chloride, which makes it particularly helpful for improving circulation, healing skin conditions and cuts, plus easing muscle, joint and nerve pain. At the Yoru no Yu bathhouse you can sink into open-air baths of cypress and stone while admiring the gardens, or head inside to enjoy a luxurious jet bath or spa treatment for ultimate relaxation.

No trip to Fukuchiyama would be complete without visiting the striking landmark of Fukuchiyama Castle and its surrounding park, which also houses the impressive Sato Taisei Memorial Art Museum. Other great places to get a sense of the city’s history include Tanshu Kannon-ji Temple, highly celebrated for its 10,000 hydrangeas, and the ancient Motoise Naigu shrine with its unique black cedar torii gates. If you’re feeling artistic, book a lacquerware class at the Yakuno Woodware and Lacquerware Hall to create a unique souvenir of your stay in Kyoto. Then to truly immerse yourself in nature, head out on the hiking trails that traverse the Oeyama mountain range – said to be home to monstrous oni demons!

Access: Take the JR San-In Line to Fukuchiyama Station, then catch a 20-minute bus to Isagoike and walk for 8 minutes

Fukuchiyama Onsen Yoro no Yu

Fukuchiyama Onsen Yoro no Yu

On the site, which occupies an area of around 19,800 square meters, you can find a large cherry tree that is 200 years old. The autumn leaves and moss there are also must-sees. As for the facility, it …

Rurikei Onsen

Rurikei Onsen is tucked away deep in the mountains, surrounded by verdant woodland, and features natural radium hot springs and vast starry skies above at night. The radium in the hot spring water here makes these baths ideal for soothing sore muscles and stiff shoulders, easing fatigue, and improving circulation, gout, joint pain and nerve pain. Rurikei is rather unique, because in addition to traditional-style onsen it also has both indoor and outdoor baths where you can wear a bathing suit – making it perfect for those who are a bit shy about using onsen in the nude. As well as the baths themselves, you can enjoy a range of spa treatments and therapies to leave you feeling completely refreshed and rejuvenated.

One of the top activities to enjoy during your stay in Rurikei is hiking. There are gorgeous trails snaking through Rurikei Valley which will take you past cascading waterfalls, over mossy rocks, and beneath towering trees. Meanwhile back towards the train station you’ll find Ikimi Tenmangu Shrine, which is over 1,000 years old and a popular place to pray for academic success. If you’re staying overnight in the glamping accommodation or hotel, don’t miss the ethereal Kyoto Illumination Synesthesia Hills display. This interactive light installation is absolutely magical, and sure to be an experience you never forget.

Access: Take the JR Sagano Line from Kyoto Station to Sonobe station, then hop on the free 30-minute shuttle bus to the onsen.

Kyoto Rurikei Onsen for REST RESORT

Kyoto Rurikei Onsen for REST RESORT

This is a health promotion establishment that is equipped with accommodation and hot spring facilities. Here, you can spend a relaxing day enjoying the large communal bath, along with the barde zone …

Visiting an onsen is a must if you’re interested in trying authentic Japanese cultural experiences during your trip, and these four are among the best hot spring resorts Kyoto has to offer. If you include one – or all! – of them on your itinerary, it’s sure to be one of the most relaxing parts of your entire stay.