The Town of Arima Onsen
Tucked in the hills deep in the north of the Rokko Mountain range behind Kobe city, lies the quaint town of Arima Onsen – so named for its abundant hot springs. We ended up there because of our interest in finding a family friendly ryokan and onsen (read more about Motoyu Ryuusenkaku Hot Springs Resort). Little did we know, we would be enchanted by this small but beautiful area.
One of Jared’s lifelong travel goals was to visit Japan during sakura season; the images of cherry blossoms filling the landscape has always captured his imagination. Of course, I’ve always loved spring blossoms as well, but he’s the one that pushed us to go. The first part of our Spring Break trip was in Shanghai and Okinawa so we had yet to really get a good dose of cherry blossoms aside from the fleeting view of trees scattered along the countryside during our train ride.
Our First Taste of Sakura Season
We arrived in Arima Onsen after dark, so we were thrilled to find that the view from our room at the ryokan included a hillside of beautiful trees. Aria and I were also fortunate to have a blossoming cherry tree in our outdoor onsen. But our ryokan was a small sampling of the beauty that filled the town of Arima Onsen.
Through part of the town is a large aqueduct, lined with cherry trees in full bloom. There is even a sidewalk at the bottom that you can follow for a little way to get a an immersive view. The area was filled with spring revelers here to enjoy nature’s beauty on display. It was fun to feel the festive energy pulsing throughout Arima.
Because Jared and I had already been to Japan, we didn’t really do a lot of research into our route. Most of our route included places we’d visited previously. So we were truly surprised and delighted to find that the narrow and winding streets of Arima Onsen were lined with small shops and restaurants lining cobblestone streets. I wouldn’t say that the hills were steep, but they were above gently sloping. We were grateful that the ryokan staff had helped us locate the luggage storage at the visitor’s center.
One of the town’s highlights is the many hot springs that dot the area. If we had done our research, we would have known that Arima Onsen is the oldest hot spring town in Japan, founded 1300 years ago. It is revered for it’s unique hot springs and supposed healing and health benefits. One of the hot springs does not have a volcanic origin and instead rises from cracks in the earth’s mantle. This is known as a “golden hot spring” because if it’s orange-brown color. We were able to enjoy one of these at our outdoor onsen and is said to have excellent moisturizing and warming benefits. There is also a carbonated hot spring and one with radon (which actually sounds kind of dangerous!).
We didn’t have a lot of time to spend sightseeing before catching our bus, but I wished we would have had a chance to use the free public foot bath. Ringed with seating, the foot bath provides a communal area along one of the main roads for everyone to sooth their tired feet.
A Taste of Arima Onsen
The other common sight in the town are the soda cracker shops. Using a carbonated spring water they bake a very thin, slightly sweet rice cracker that has it’s own unique taste, called Tansansenbei. The smell of the bakeries as you walk by is wonderful! Our ryokan provided some of the crackers to eat with tea in our room and it was fun for us to discover that they were being baked throughout Arima Onsen. Of course we bought some boxes to take with us on the rest of our trip!
We enjoyed lunch in a small and cozy restaurant. I’m not sure if the area has a localized cuisine, but the sauces they used were unlike anything we had tried in Japan. Jared’s meal was a type of egg and noodle omelet, which he thought was delicious, but the kids were pretty skeptical of the different flavors. The fact that the cooks prepared the food directly in front of us made up for some of the kids’ unenthusiastic reception of the food. Sadly, the Kobe beef meal at another restaurant was a little too pricey, we didn’t think the kids would really appreciate it and we were worried that it would take up too much time. Luckily, Jared and I had stopped in Kobe on our previous trip to Japan and got to enjoy the famous and delicious beef.
Full of Charm and Plenty To Do
Before we boarded the bus, we had a chance to climb some very old stone steps to the Masutomi Inari Shrine. Again we were greeted with a delightful view of the sakura blossoms. There is something so enchanting about the mixture of the old stone and wood with the delicate beauty of the flowers.
Even without knowing much about Arima Onsen, we had a lovely time there. We were so focused on our ryokan and onsen experience, I’m sad we missed out on some activities that would have been great to do with kids. Such as, the longest cable car in Japan that takes you to Mount Rokko National Park, or a moderate hike through the wooded mountains. I’m super bummed we missed the Arima Toys & Automata Museum! We visited an automata display in a theme park called Tibidabo in Barcelona, and it was a marvel to see all the old, automated toys.
We knew the rest of our trip would be filled with tourists and big cities as we made our way to Kyoto and Tokyo and what luck that we had a chance to enjoy something smaller on our way there. Despite the fact that the streets were filled with people trying to get the most out of sakura season, Arima Onsen managed to keep it’s charm and intimacy. It’s definitely a gem, and I recommend getting more info from the Arima Onsen tourism website, so you don’t miss some unique experiences!