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Kyoto Winter Pleasures
Onsen Hot Spas

Taking a hot bath is a time honored Japanese tradition. Whether at home, at a sento (public bath), or in a hot spa (onsen), the Japanese love to soak the hours away... Natural hot springs (onsen) are numerous and highly popular across Japan. Every region of the country has its share of hot springs and resort towns, which come with them.

For the visitor, no trip to Japan would be complete without experiencing a Japanese onsen or a local community bath house (sento). If staying the night is out of your price range, no worries. Just bathing is OK at many places. Following, are a list of local onsen and sento. Relax, enjoy, and sleep even better!

The ultimate hot spring experience is spending a night at an onsen ryokan, a Japanese style inn with hot spring baths. This is not only one of the most popular holiday activities for everyone. A typical onsen ryokan visit starts with a bath before dinner. The beautifully arranged Japanese style dinner, featuring local specialties, is either served in your room or in a dining room. Many guests like to take another bath before sleeping and before breakfast in the next morning.

Tips to Enjoy Japanese Onsen or Sento

1) Take off all your clothes in the changing room and place them into a basket together with your bath towel. Coin lockers for valuables are often available.

2) Japanese hot springs are enjoyed naked. Swimming suits are not allowed in most places. However, it is the custom to bring a small towel into the bathing area, with which you can enhance your privacy while outside of the water. Once you enter the bath, keep the towel out of the water.

3) Before entering the bath, rinse your body with water from either a tap or the bath using a washbowl provided in the bathing area.

4) Enter the bath and soak for a while. Note that the bath water can be very hot (typical temperatures are 40 to 44 degrees).

5) After soaking for a while, get out of the bath and wash your body with soap at a water tap, while sitting on a stool. Make sure that no soap gets into the bath water. Tidy up your space after you finished cleaning your body.

6) Enjoy soaking in the bath as much as you want!

Kyoto In-City Hot Spas

Funaoka Onsen
The oldest onsen in the city, dates from the late Edo period (19th century). It has a number of exquisite ranma (panels of Japanese wood carving) which partition the change rooms. 340 yen; Open 15:00-1:00 (from 8:00 on Sun. & holidays); located directly south of Daitoku-ji Temple; Tel: 075-441-3735.

Kurama Onsen
This outdoor spa, set on a forested, mountain slope at the north end of the narrow Kurama valley, is only 30-minutes by train from Kyoto. Outdoor bathing: 1,100 yen or 2,500 yen; Open 10:00-21:00; Tel: 075-741-2131; www.kurama-onsen.co.jp/

Ohara Onsen
The Ohara area is located in a beautiful valley northeast of Kyoto and is easy to get to (about 30 min. by bus from Kyoto Stn.). If you have time, spending the night at an inn is highly recommended (see Ohara no Sato ad below). Taking a hot bath before or after wandering through Ohara's ancient temples and along its fascinating walking paths is a wonderful way to spend the day and a great way to relax in the great outdoors.

Randen Arashiyama Station Footbath
If you don't have much time to stop at onsen places, then, try a quick footbath in Arashiyama. In the station site of the Randen Arashiyama Stn., there is a traditionally decorated area where you can soak your feet in hot natural spring water; 150 yen (towel provided); Open: 9:00-18:00; Tel: 075-873-2121.

Sagano Onsen Tenzan-no-yu
Indoor/outdoor soaking and warming; sauna; massage; private stone bathtubs full of herbal infusions from the Japanese alps; a killer restaurant that allows a bit of napping right after, during or before your meal; a 3-min. walk east of Arisugawa Stn. on the Keifuku line; 1,000 yen; Open: 10:00-1:00; closed the 3rd Mon. of every month; Tel: 075-882-4126; http://www.ndg.jp/tenzan/

Hot Spas in Other Areas

Yu-no-hana Onsen (Kameoka City)
Like many smaller, rural Japanese cities, nearby Kameoka has largely managed to preserve its special sense of heritage. Access: Take the JR Sagano line to Kameoka (30 min.). The onsen area is a 20-min ride by Kyoto Kotsu bus from Kameoka Stn.; http://www.yunohana-onsen.com/

Ukawa Onsen (Kyotango City)
Ukawa Onsen is located in a beautiful area near the sea and forest on one side. Visitors can enjoy themselves at the spa while taking in panoramic sea and mountain views. One of the best onsen ryokan in the area is Yoshino no Sato (Open: 11:00-21:00, closed Thurs.; 600 yen; Tel: 0772-76-1000; http://ukawaonsen.jp/)

Ayabe Onsen (Ayabe City)
The old castle town of Ayabe, about two hours northwest of Kyoto City by train, once a major producer of raw silk, is blessed with natural surroundings. Ayabe's spa (overnight from 8,800 yen, including breakfast and dinner) is said to be good for neuralgia, fatigue, burns and bruises, due largely to the water's very high sulphur content; Tel: 0773-55-0262; http://www.ayabeonsen.com/