A Kid Friendly Onsen and Traditional Ryokan Experience in Japan
When planning for our travel in Japan, one of our wish-list items was to stay in a ryokan with an onsen. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, which features flooring made from tatami straw and often includes all meals. There are many ryokan around Japan, but we also wanted a kid friendly onsen. We weren’t quite sure if there are onsen where kids are not brought along so that adults can have a more relaxing environment, so we wanted to be sure ahead of time.
In 2015 we visited Sweden and went to a traditional sauna, where guests relax nude in the sauna and then run out to take a dip in the cold ocean. The kids were open to the experience, although they really did not like to be in the heat of the sauna for very long. One of the things we love about traveling with kids is being able to introduce them to ideas that seem a little strange and maybe even get a chance to try something new.
Even though they had been in the sauna, they were a bit younger then and the idea of bathing nude in the onsen now seemed different and interesting. Aria was a little nervous, but Kai seemed unfazed. We didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to give the kids a chance to experience a part of Japanese culture and family tradition. We also thought the kids would enjoy sleeping on the floor in the traditional rooms at the ryokan.
Never a Dull Moment
After an intensive search of different ryokan with onsen along our general route, I found a lovely place in the hot spring filled town of Arima Onsen with a kid friendly onsen at Motoyu Ryuusenkaku Hot Spring Resort. Unfortunately during my planning, I had incorrectly assume that our flight from Okinawa to Osaka was landing at the Osaka International Airport, which is a lot closer to Arima than the Kansai International Airport where we landed. It wasn’t until we landed and I was getting our train passes validated that I realized my error.
Once we were at the main Osaka train station, we ended up in a scramble to get the bus that the resort website instructs to take to Arima Onsen. Sadly, the last bus had already left. Luckily, the man working the ticket office at the bus station spoke some English and was able to tell us which train we could take and he was nice enough to call the ryokan to let them know we would not make it by the 9:00 pm check-in time. They very helpfully said they would have someone at the train station to pick us up when our train arrived, as the ryokan is a bit of a walk from the station and all uphill.
Our ride from Osaka to Arima Onsen started out with everyone very cranky from all the hassle of trying to find the bus station, missing the bus, and trying to figure out how and if we could make it there. That trip was part of the inspiration behind this post about dealing with travel setbacks. It turned out to be a nice train ride, where the kids had our full attention and Kai spoke the entire time about his idea for a Nintendo Kirby video game (his favorite video game character).
Kid Friendly Onsen | Motoyu Ryuusenkaku Hot Spring Resort
We cannot say enough good things about Motoyu Ryuusenkaku Hot Springs Resort in Arima Onsen. Despite the fact that we were checking in nearly an hour after nine, they welcomed us with such warm hospitality. We were taken to a room where we picked out our complimentary yukata’s for our stay. A yukata is an informal cotton Kimono that is used as a bathrobe and also as loungewear. Guests wear them all throughout the ryokan, to breakfast, dinner and even to bed. They are very comfortable and were available in pretty pinks and blues.
The receptionist guided us to our room and showed us all of the facilities along the way. The lobby area has a cute gift shop with lots of souvenirs and other fun trinkets, and there is also a small area for kids to play, and some video games, (very, let’s say, vintage), but they were there! We were shown a room full of massage chairs and a karaoke system we didn’t have time to use.
In the area with those facilities is also an indoor bath, one side for men and the other for women. We were glad that it opens only at night, from 7:00 pm to 9:30 am, since we arrived so late. The receptionist took us to our room, which was quite lovely and had a deep Japanese bath and the tatami mat floors, but we rushed out so we could squeeze in a visit to the hot spring.
Hot Mineral Baths
I took Aria to the women’s side, and because we came in quite late, we ended up being the only people there. There are a few etiquette rules that you’ll want to follow if you visit an onsen. The onsen are prized for their mineral richness and the supposed health benefits, so there are no chemicals like chlorine to kill germs. They also want to keep the water free from other contaminants like shampoo. So you’ll sit on a little stool and wash your body, and your hair if you choose.
This onsen had a selection of shampoo and soap available to use, but I’m not sure how other facilities are set up. Some other rules are to keep your hair and any washcloths out of the water. It is nice to have a cold cloth on your head, but don’t drop it! Also, we only took photos because there were no other guests there. I think it goes without saying that taking photos otherwise is definitely against the rules.
The onsen was very hot! There were signs posted with recommended times for using the onsen, I think the maximum time was fifteen minutes. Aria couldn’t stand the hot water for very long, so we were only in the water for less than ten minutes, and she mostly sat on the side. I could barely stand the heat myself, but it did seem to have a different feel than a hot tub. Being in the water made my skin very tingly and I felt quite invigorated when I was out and wrapped up in the yakuta. I wish I would have had time to go back on my own.
Overnight in a Cozy Ryokan
After a good night’s sleep on the tatami floor (on very comfortable mattresses), we enjoyed a delicious Japanese breakfast. We get so used to American breakfasts which are often on the sweet side, it is a nice treat to try a more savory style start to the morning. The food was delicious and it was fun to go to breakfast dressed in our yukatas and also enjoy the view of the many beautiful cherry blossoms from the window.
The check out time from the ryokan is 10, but the staff were nice enough to let us have a late checkout due to our late arrival. We didn’t realize that the outdoor onsen was actually supposed to be closed (we wondered why no one was using it!) and luckily it didn’t seem to be an issue. I’m so glad we were able to get a chance to use the outdoor onsen, because the setting was beautiful, and the water was not too warm so Aria and Kai were able to enjoy it also. I think the outdoor area was a more kid friendly onsen.
Outdoor Onsen Full of Cherry Blossoms
Bathing nude with other people seems like a strange concept in the U.S., but I can see why it continues as a family tradition in Japan. Aria and I sat on the stools to wash, facing a lovely view of a cherry tree in full bloom with a soft spring breeze while I lathered and rinsed her hair. It was such a peaceful and intimate moment that will be frozen in my memory. Again, it was just the two of us, relaxing and talking. If you ever have a chance to use an onsen, it is a great experience, especially if you have access to an outdoor option.
The ryokan also has a regular swimming pool. After the calmer experience of the onsen, the kids were ready to jump and splash. The staff was kind enough not to ask us to leave, since it was actually during the hours it was supposed to be closed. After our pool time we rushed up to our room to pack up our stuff and head out, we had already stayed longer than we should have. We were dropped off on the main street of Arima Onsen, a town that was filled with beautiful cherry blossoms everywhere. I’ll be writing more about that next! In the end we were so happy with our choice to stay here, the kid friendly onsen was very accommodating with lots of amenities for children and thoughtful touches.
See what the kids had to say about this kid friendly onsen in their Kid’s Eye View video.