Arima Onsen, the Oldest Hot spring Bath in Japan

What are Onsens?

A Japanese hot spring bath is known as an onsen. This is a location that uses natural spring water whose temperature was increased by geothermal energy from the ground. This water is then stored in a pool made of stone or wood to literally serve as a bath. Onsens are commonly found in mountain towns and cities which are located quite close to active volcanoes. Since Japan has an abundance of volcanic activity, an onsen can be found in almost every city in the country.

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There are two kinds of onsens in Japan, one of them would be the indoor baths and the other would be the outdoor bath. In the earlier times, plumbing systems for baths are not available in ordinary homes. Only the wealthy had the luxury to own baths in their own backyard. With this, the popularity of the public bath became quite prominent.

However, through time, the cost of plumbing systems in homes became much more affordable and these public baths have turned into resorts and spas rather than a basic need. Usually, hotels usually have their own hot spring baths for their guests.

How hot springs work

Usually in a place near an active volcano, magma underground can heat up water stored up in aquifers (known as groundwater). This water’s temperature can rise up to about 70 to 80 degree Celsius. When they do rise in temperature they start rising up to the surface to form hot spring fields.

It is ill-advised to allow people to swim directly into hot spring fields because the temperature of the water is usually too high to be safe. It can cause damage to the skin and even death. Usually, the water will pass through systems of canals and piping to slowly cool it a bit. The pools that will be receiving these water will have a system as well to keep the water warm and clean.

So, there are systems that manage and treats water coming from hot spring fields going into plumbing facilities inside the home. Nowadays, the system is much more elaborate and high tech. Facilities test the chemistry of the water before it is distributed to onsens. On top of that, they also ensure the sanitation and safety of water being expelled from homes and inns.  

What is the Arima Onsen?

Arima Onsen is actually a town, a hot spring resort town to be specific, located in the borderlines of Osaka and Kobe. The natural hot spring comes from the geothermal energy of Mount Rokko near the area. The Arima Onsen gained its popularity for the fact that it is the oldest hot spring resort town in the world.

It is a popular weekend destination because it does not only provide a space for bathing and relaxing, it also has a space for appreciating the historical culture of Japan. There are a number of ancient buildings and structures in the area which have been existing for hundreds of years. In fact, many of these inns and hotels have been run by families for generations.

Most of the streets inside Arima Onsen are pedestrian only. This means that it is best to enjoy touring about with the use of a bicycle or while on foot. There are two public bathhouses in the entire town amidst all the private ryokans and inns.

What is interesting about this place is that there are historical documents from the 8th century that records the existence of Onsens and ryokans in this area. Usually, these are the records of traveling monks that are on pilgrimage towards shrines and temples in different parts of the country. It is also said, according to records, that the powerful feudal leader Hideyoshi Toyotomi frequented the Arima onsens in the 16th century.

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Access to Arima Onsen and Ryokans

The onsen in Arima is very near both Osaka and Kobe and easy to access from both locations. The Arima onsen can be reached via bus, train, or car. In fact, people can also ride the ropeway that crosses Mount Rokko going to Arima Onsen. They can ride the ropeway from the base of the mountain up the summit. Usually the travel time takes about 10 minutes and costs 500 yen.

Arima Onsen from Osaka

There is a direct bus traveling from Osaka going to Arima station. They can ride the Hankyu Bus or the JR bus that travels from Umeda station to the JR Osaka station. The travel time usually takes about 60 minutes for a cost of 1,370 JPY. It is said that it is best to ride this bus through online reservations as they easily fill up, buying bus tickets in the terminal may not be too easy.

Arima Onsen from Kobe

The Arima onsen has an address located in the Hyogo prefecture. For those traveling by train, from Sannomiya they can take the subway going to the Tanigami Station. Then they can ride the Arima-sanda line to the Arima-guchi station. From here they can transfer to the Arima line that goes directly to the Arima onsen station.

Just like in Osaka, there is also a direct us traveling from Kobe to Arima Onsen. They can ride the Shinki bus from the Sannomiya station to Arima Onsen directly. Usually, the travel time takes 85 minutes with a cost of 800 JPY.

What is inside the Arima onsen?

The Golden Spring

Also known as the Kinsen, this golden spring is a popular bath for its health and therapeutic benefits. As is its name, this spring is golden in color (some interpret it as reddish brown) because of the chemical composition of the water. It is said to consist of both iron and salt. It is believed that this water will help a person alleviate their muscle strain and joint pains. It is also said to help in resolving circulation issues.

There is, however, no scientific evidence to prove that the kinsen can cure diseases. For those who are skeptical, there are a number of testimonies indicating that the water is perfectly safe. In fact, there are people saying that it has really good moisturizing effects which help in speeding up the healing of cuts and burns.

The Silver Springs

Also known as Ginsen, this silver colored spring is the other kind of popular hot spring in the area. It is said that they consist of carbon and radon. Its chemical composition explains how the color came about. Based on records, it is said that the ginseng can help in lowering hypertension for those with high blood pressure.

It is also believed to help in improving the blood flow in the body. It also boosts the immune system and helps in speeding up the healing process. An important disclaimer for this is that these are merely therapeutic and no actual cure is promised by the hot springs.

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Admission and fees to Arima Onsen Hotels

Usually, public baths require as low as 500 yen. More luxurious spaces and ryokans can ask as high as 2,500 yen for a day trip. Staying overnight will definitely be much more expensive because board and lodging will be paid for as well. It is important to check the date of the check-in and checkout as not all ryokans allow overnight stays. There are also ryokans that allow day trips with checkouts before 6:00 PM or 8:00 PM.

The Health Benefits of Visiting an Onsen

There are a number of health benefits to going to an onsen bath regularly. One of these would be the fact that the heat from the water allows relaxation t the muscles. This can relieve any strain, stress, fatigue, and tiredness from the muscle. Going to an onsen is a common activity for people with rheumatism, joint pains, and other bodily pains. The warmth of the water is also calming which is good for people who are also undergoing a significant amount of mental and emotional stress.

Another good benefit of going to an onsen is that there is a multitude of healthy minerals present in the water. For instance, there is a good amount of calcium, chloride, and sodium. These are said to be good for circulation, skin diseases, and digestive issues.

However, it must be important to remember that onsens do not necessarily cure nor heal diseases. There are no scientific evidence to prove that they do so, although there are a number of personal testimonies that their bodies started doing great after a few times on the bath. They merely alleviate symptoms and underlying pain involved with the disease. Also, a good amount of relaxation can do great things to one’s health.

Furthermore, staying too long in the water does not necessarily become a good thing. It is important to remember that there are microorganisms that thrive in hot temperatures and overexposure to these microorganisms can be bad to the health as well. Add to that, too much exposure to the heat (just like in steam baths and saunas) can cause unwanted health effects. There can be difficulty breathing, dizziness, hypertension, and even tightness in the chest. Also, staying too long in the heat can cause unwanted dehydration. After going out of the water, a good amount of cool water can be very refreshing.

Do’s and Don’ts in Arima Onsen

Things to do when going to an onsen

It is important to remember that cleanliness and sanitation is a must. These hot spring baths are not flowing water, although unwanted dirt and viruses can be killed in the hot water. But, the hot water does not guarantee cleaning up dirt and soot. This is why a good scrub and a shower is a must before entering the pools. It is common courtesy for other people who would be using the public bath as well.

There are a number of onsens that think contamination can be caused by excess clothing. This is why most onsens prefer nude bathing. However, there are also onsens that allow bathing suits but these are actually quite rare. A towel will be given before entering the bath BUT IT IS A MUST TO REMEMBER THAT THIS MUST NOT TOUCH THE WATER. This only shows how important cleanliness is for people who go to onsens.  

Going to a ryokan can be expensive but it is important to remember that the value of the ryokan is in the experience. It might be a good idea to look up the rooms before demanding a bed in a futon only, tatami matted room. Check all the facilities before check-in and it will lower all the unwanted surprise.

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For people Who Have Tattoo

For those who have massive body tattoos, it might be a good idea to skip going to an onsen if the tattoo cannot be covered up. Some conservative people think that the ink can cause pollution to the water. Also, some conservative people think that people with too much ink on the skin can be scary and dangerous.

Things not to do when going to an onsen

When going to an onsen, being friendly is okay but it is important to take note of when a conversation can become bothersome to other people. People go to onsens to relax and calm down, it is important to be mindful of noise and unwarranted conversations.

One other thing that must be avoided is eating and drinking in the bath. Cleanliness is a really big deal for onsen goers and any form of contamination is strongly frowned upon. There are cafes and restaurants available near the onsens so it might be good to eat AFTER a long relaxing bath. This is to avoid having the need to go to the toilet while in the bath. However, there are some onsens that offer tea in a kettle or a pot while in the bath and there are others that have sake on the menu. However, these are quite rare.

When staying in a ryokan, it is best to respect traditional Japanese cultures. Take good care of the tatami mats, the futon, and the sliding paper doors. The good thing is that there are wifi enabled and tv enabled rooms in traditional rooms, both of which is free of charge.