ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Honshu: Kansai Region

SEASIDE RESORT OF TAKENO (竹野), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan

Visiting beach town Takeno in a late December afternoon would ought to be a quiet experience. Most shops and restaurants would be closed but we would pretty much have the beach and lookouts all by ourselves. That was exactly what we got. Away from the lively scenes of Kinosaki Onsen, spending the afternoon at Takeno was our only moment of rural tranquility before heading back to Kyoto. As soon as we stepped out the train station, we were immediately overwhelmed by the town’s tranquility. Streets were empty. Hotels were closed. Most shops near the beach were boarded up for the season. Wandering in a winter Takeno offered us moments of absolute peace, something that is almost impossible to come by in Hong Kong. That day, we had no intent to take a dip in the freezing water, nor do any serious hiking at Nekozaki Peninsula. We made a walking loop that encompassed the lookout on Mt. Jajayama, the lovely Takeno Beach, and the small fishing community at the mouth of Takeno River. On our way to Mt. Jajayama, we stopped by a convenient store for a quick bite, and a seafood souvenir store (海の幸本舗 ますだ) for some dried seaweed to take home, and admired the traditional houses best known for their charred timber sidings.

Just ten minutes of train ride brought us from the vibrant tourist scenes of Kinosaki Onsen to the empty station of Takeno. [2022.12.29]
A poster at the train station reminded visitors that Takeno Beach is one of the hundred best beaches in the country. [2022.12.29]
Hoping for a decent seafood lunch at seafood souvenir store (海の幸本舗 ますだ), we soon found out that the restaurant was closed for the season. Fortunately we could still pick up some local seaweed and snacks from the delightful store. [2022.12.29]
A 15-minutes walk brought us to the lookout of Mt. Jajayama (ジャジャ山公園). Nekozaki Peninsula once served as a natural shelter for Kitamaebune (北前船) or “northern-bound” ships, Takeno flourished as a port city during the Edo period. [2022.12.29]
The lookout on Mt. Jajayama offered us an overview of beach and townscape of Takeno. From a distance, the scenery of Nekozaki Peninsula and Takeno Beach loosely reminded us of the beach at Urca right beneath the iconic Pao de Acucar in Rio de Janeiro. [2022.12.29]
At the end of the beach, Oku Kinosaki Seaside Hotel marks the entrance to Nekozaki Peninsula. [2022.12.29]
The traditional houses in Takeno is well known for their charred timber sidings. [2022.12.29]
In a winter afternoon, we pretty much had Takeno Beach all by ourselves. [2022.12.29]
Chikuto Ryokan (竹涛) immediately caught our eyes when we arrived at the beach. Perched atop the sand right by the sea, we could imagine ourselves staying up all night at the inn listening to the thundering waves. [2022.12.29]
Beyond the Sea of Japan, Vladivostok of Russia on the other side must be a completely distinct world from sleepy Takeno. [2022.12.29]
A plaque at the beach reminds visitors the history of Kitamaebune (北前船) or “northern-bound ships”, a popular shipping route during the Edo period that passed Takeno between Osaka and Hokkaido. [2022.12.29]
Many shops and guesthouses along the beach were closed for the season. [2022.12.29]
Traditional charred timber houses ould be found throughout Takeno. [2022.12.29]
Throughout the years, some houses have obviously gone through different alterations and repairs. [2022.12.29]
Many houses near the beach were boarded up during winter. [2022.12.29]
Shops sailing fishing equipment and swimming gear also remained shut during winter. [2022.12.29]

MOUNT DAISHI (大師山) & ONSENJI (温泉寺), Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan

In the old days, holidaymakers had to first pay a visit to Onsenji (温泉寺) or Hot Spring Temple before dipping into the hot springs of Kinosaki. While the old rule is long gone, we opted to pay respect to the temple before leaving Kinosaki. After a short walk to the west end of the town, we hopped on a cable car of the Kinosaki Ropeway up Mount Daishi (大師山). We could choose to get off the cable car either at the temple stop or the observation deck on the summit. Hoping to get an overview of Kinosaki Onsen and the surroundings, we decided to get off at the summit. At the summit, weather wasn’t too promising gusty winds, wet snow and hail. Fortunately we could take shelter and enjoy some snacking time at the cafe on the summit. Apart from the cafe and lookout that offers a nice overview of the town and river valley beyond, there weren’t a whole lot to see on the summit: Kanizuka (かに塚) – a shrine dedicated to the snow crabs, Jibokannon (慈母観音) – a shrine for the Bodhisattva of Compassion and Mercy, and a platform for Kawarake Throw, a religious ritual of throwing small unglazed pottery dishes towards a target downhill for luck and happiness.

Midway between the summit and the town, Onsenji Temple has been the sacred sanctuary for Kinosaki Onsen since 738 AD, ensuring the town’s prosperity and abundance of the springs. Not only does it serve as the guardian temple of Kinosaki, it also houses the famous 1300 year old statue of the Eleven-Headed Bodhisattva of Compassion and Mercy. The statue is opened to the public for 3 years every 33 years. We just missed our chance as the statue just ended its last opening in 2021. Next time will be 2054! We walked around the temple ground to check out the Tahoto Pagoda (多宝塔), Bell Hall and memorial for Dochi Shonin, the Buddhist saint who, after 1000 days of prayers, founded the hot spring and its healing power in 717 AD. Today, he is recognized as the founder of Kinosaki Onsen.

A short cable car ride on Kinosaki Ropeway took us to the summit of Mount Daishi. [2022.12.29]
On Mount Daishi, we stopped by the cafe at the observation deck to warm ourselves with some food and hot coffee. [2022.12.29]
We waited a bit on the summit until the hail and gust gradually faded. [2022.12.29]
Throwing a kawarake to hit the target downhill would bring good luck to the visitor. [2022.12.29]
The summit is home to a number of shrines, including a shrine for Jibokannon. [2022.12.29]
Standing halfway on Mount Daishi is the thousand-year-old Onsenji, the guardian temple of Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.29]
Not many tourists were around at the temple, except a girl amusing herself with the snow right by the ropeway station. [2022.12.29]
The ropeway station is right adjacent to the temple ground. [2022.12.29]
The aged wooden plaque of Onsenji. [2022.12.29]
The main hall of Onsenji Temple remained closed. [2022.12.29]
Tall wooden pole with Buddhist inscription stood adjacent to the main hall. [2022.12.29]
Small stone stupas clustered behind the main hall of Onsenji. [2022.12.29]
Behind the main hall, a flight of steps led us to Tahoto Pagoda (多宝塔) or Treasure Pagoda. [2022.12.29]
Beautiful timber details of Tahoto Pagoda. [2022.12.29]
Memorial stele dedicated to Dochi Shonin, the founder of Kinosaki Onsen 1300 years ago. [2022.12.29]
All visitors can give it a try to ring the bronze bell. [2022.12.29]
After a short temple visit, we returned to the ropeway station to catch a descending cable car. [2022.12.29]
After a few packed ones, we finally made it into a cable car going downhill, leaving behind the sacred Onsenji Temple and the peaceful Mount Daishi. [2022.12.29]

A DREAMY NIGHT, Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan

It was such a surreal experience to dress in yukata and hop from one bathhouse to another. The night belonged to the wabi-sabi of aged old timber houses, the rhythmical shadows of latticed screens, the delightful chatters outside liquor stores, the delicate willow reflections under the stone bridges, the vivid and captivating window displays, the youngsters at the dessert shops, the bliss of relaxation and haptic memory of onsen waters upon our skin. It was such a dreamy night for us that would last long in our memories.

After dinner, night had fallen upon the picturesque Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.28]
We decided to stroll along the waterway towards Yunosato Dori, the main street in town. [2022.12.28]
Lingering on the streets at night in Kinosaki Onsen was a dreamy experience. [2022.12.28]
The main streets are lined with old ryokans and shops. [2022.12.28]
The silent night is the perfect time to absorb the traditional ambience of Kinosaki Onsen.
Youngsters could always find themselves opportunities to amuse themselves, especially in a resort town where small game shops remain open beyond dinner time. [2022.12.28]
But it was the dessert shop that captured the most attention at night. [2022.12.28]
Youngsters in their traditional yukatas wandered the streets of Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.28]
It would be a choice between coffee and whiskey at Ayame, a traditional bar on Yunosato Dori. [2022.12.28]
The orchid was a stunning display at the main street, especially during the winter season. [2022.12.28]
Even a post box looked rather lovely under the yellow lights of Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.28]
Window shopping in Kinosaki Onsen at night. [2022.12.28]
“Hibuse Kabe,” or “Fire Prevention Wall” is a unique structure to commemorate the 1925 North Tajima Earthquake and Fire. [2022.12.28]
Skewer restaurants stayed open till late at night. [2022.12.28]
But it was the liquor stores that saw continuous influx of customers at night. [2022.12.28]
Shisho Shrine (四所神社) is said to be founded in 708 AD. [2022.12.28]
Mihashira Shrine (三柱神社) stays out of the spotlight with its discreet location hidden from the street. [2022.12.28]
We stumbled upon Mihashira Shrine unexpectedly, and immediately fell in love with its tranquil setting and lovely shadows. [2022.12.28]
A tender night of light and shadows. [2022.12.28]
Back to the ryokan after a relaxing night. [2022.12.28]

THE SEVEN BATHS, Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan

After putting on our yukata (浴衣), white tabi socks (足袋) and wooden getas (下駄), we were all set to go to experience the famous baths of Kinosaki Onsen. With no cameras or backpacks but only towels in the eco bag provided by the ryokan, we already felt light and refreshing even before we touched the hot spring. Since we were staying only for one night, which meant we only had an evening and a morning to try out the bathhouses, we didn’t expect to visit all seven of them. Each bathhouse has its unique scheduled days of closure, and we already knew beforehand that we would miss out Mandara-yu (まんだらの湯). Thanks to the central location of our ryokan, it was only a short walk to any of the seven baths in town. Though walking with the traditional wooden sandals, getas, was not as easy as we thought. It took us a while to get used to walking without slipping our feet out of the getas.

Goshonoyu Onsen (御所の湯)

We carefully walked over to Yunosato Dori (湯の里通り) or Lane of Hot Spring towards Goshonoyu Onsen (御所の湯), a splendid bath complex inspired by the Imperial Palace of Kyoto. Known as the “Water of Beauty”, Goshonoyu Onsen is probably the most popular bathhouse in Kinosaki. Two aspects of Goshonoyu impressed us. First, it was the atmospheric outdoor bathing area made of natural boulders that sits against a backdrop of lush greenery and small waterfalls. Soaking in the hot spring while listening to the falling water and admiring the views of a lush green hillside was a gorgeous experience. Second, we were amazed by the beautiful paintings on the ceiling and wall screens in the foyer, prompting us to sit down in the foyer for a short while after bathing.

The architecture of Goshonoyu Onsen took inspirations from the Imperial Palace of Kyoto. [2022.12.28]
Due to its elegant architecture and waterfall backdrop at the bathing area, Goshonoyu Onsen is the most popular bathhouse in Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.28]
A pair of lanterns and a tranquil reflective pool mark the entrance of the bathhouse. [2022.12.28]
Beyond the lattice screens lies the beautiful foyer and waiting area. [2022.12.28]
The ceiling of the foyer is decorated with paintings of Japanese flowers. [2022.12.28]
Traditional wall screens are also a treat to the eye at the foyer. [2022.12.28]

Kono-yu Onsen (鴻の湯)

After Goshonoyu, we still had time to go further to the town’s far end for another hot spring visit before dinner. Tucked away at the town’s western end near the Kinosaki Onsen Ropeway, Kono-yu has the oldest bathhouse building in town. Legend has it that about 1,300 years ago, Kono-yu Onsen was discovered when an Oriental White Stork was seen soaking its injured leg in the hot spring. Thus, Kono-yu is known as “the hot spring of the Oriental White Stork.” While we didn’t see any white stork (except statues in the forecourt), we still appreciated the lush green setting of the outdoor bath. Being furthest away from the train station, Kono-yu seemed to be the most tranquil among the seven bathhouses.

With the gable roofs, our first impression on Kono-yu was like approaching a mountain chalet in the Alps. [2022.12.28]
Legend has it that Kono-yu was found by a Oriental White Stork, who came to soak its injured leg in the hot spring over 1,300 years ago. [2022.12.28]
Similar to other bathhouses, a pair of traditional lanterns marked with the onsen name were placed at the entrance. [2022.12.28]

Yanagi-yu Onsen (柳湯)

After a satisfying crab meal, we headed out again for one final onsen dip. We chose Yanagi-yu (柳湯) that was right in front of our ryokan. Being the smallest bathhouse in town, Yanagi-yu seemed to be the coziest onsen we visited. Legend has it that water appeared from the base of a willow tree after it was transplanted to Kinosaki from Lake Seiko (West Lake) in China. Or perhaps it was named after the willow trees lined in front of the complex. Anyhow, Yanagi-yu literally means “Bath of the weeping willows.” Soaking in hot spring at a cozy Japanese bathhouse was such a great way to end a long day!

The cozy Yanagi-yu faces Kinosaki’s main water channel lined with willow trees. [2022.12.28]
A beautiful wooden plaque with the calligraphy of Yanagi-yu (柳湯) marks the entrance. [2022.12.28]
Again we were greeted by a pair of traditional lantern at the front door. [2022.12.28]
At the side of complex, an onsen foot bath was also available for visitors. [2022.12.28]

Ichino-Yu Onsen (一の湯)

Resembling a kabuki theatre, Ichino-Yu Onsen is a popular icon of Kinosaki Onsen. In the Edo Period, doctor Shutoku Kagawa identified the onsen as the best in Japan. Henceforth, the onsen was named Ichino-yu, or the Number One Onsen. Ichino-Yu was closed on the day of our arrival, but we managed to visit it in the next morning. Apart from its beautiful building facade, the most remarkable thing about Ichino-yu is the cave-like setting of its bathing area.

Despite it wasn’t closed, the Ichino-Yu Onsen is still decorated with floodlights in the evening. [2022.12.28]
It was until the next morning that we were able to try out the cave-like bathing area of Ichino-Yu Onsen. [2022.12.29]

Jizo-yu Onsen (地蔵湯)

Inspired by a Japanese lantern, Jizo has a rather interesting outlook. Jizo is a protective bodhisattva that lingers between the real and spiritual worlds. A small shrine dedicated to Jizo stands adjacent to the entrance. We didn’t spend long at the bathhouse, as we wanted to spend more time to visit other areas in Kinosaki. Jizo-yu was the fifth and last hot spring we visited in Kinosaki.

The hexagonal glazing was said to be inspired by volcanic rock formations nearby. [2022.12.29]

A THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD RESORT, Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan

Not many resort towns in Japan have a recorded founding date, but it is well documented that Kinosaki Onsen was found in 720 AD by a traveling monk who discovered a hot spring with healing power. 1300 years later, Kinosaki Onsen is still going strong with seven unique bathhouses, attracting visitors from far and wide. Mainly open-air hot springs in traditional setting, the bathhouses in Kinosaki offer visitors a natural and nostalgic ambience, and a moment of sublime relaxation that makes one to forget about the outside world. 74 ryokan (family run traditional inns) of different sizes and prices welcome visitors in all seasons. But it is between November and March, that Kinosaki Onsen truly enters its peak season. It is the only time when Matsuba-gani (松葉蟹), or snow crab from the Sea of Japan is available as a local delicacy. In fact, sitting at less than 5km from where Maruyama River enters the Sea of Japan, Kinosaki is blessed with an abundant catches of the day. Washing down Matsuba-gani (松葉蟹) and Tajima wagyu (但馬牛) with a bottle of cold local sake is as good as it gets for a fancy meal in this part of Japan. Outside the ryokans and bathhouses, it is the lovely aesthetics of traditional houses, peaceful river setting and over a thousand years of history that separate Kinosaki Onsen from other resort towns,. Our Kinosaki experience can be defined by four fundamental aspects of the town: onsen (温泉), ryokan (旅館), crab (カニ) and beauty (美しさ).

ONSEN (温泉)

A humble hot spring drinking fountain welcomes every visitor outside Kinosaki Onsen train station. [2022.12.28]
Other than bathing, hot spring water is often used for boiling eggs in Japan. [2022.12.28]
The constant hot steam and bubbling noise drew us to Kinosaki Onsen Motoyu (城崎温泉元湯) just off . Literally means “the source of Kinosaki hot spring”, the famous water emerges from a rock that pops out from the ground. [2022.12.29]
Adjacent to Kinosaki Onsen Motoyu, Chaya cafe offers onsen eggs, gelato, and local dessert snacks. [2022.12.28]

KANI (カニ)

Perched on top of Mt. Daishi (大師山) above Kinosaki Onsen, a small shrine Kanizuka (かに塚) dedicates to the local delicacy – Matsuba-gani snow crab (松葉蟹) stands alongside with a Bodhisattva statue and a Buddhist temple. [2022.12.29]
Walking down the main street of Kinosaki Onsen, there should be no question on what is the celebrity of the winter season: Matsuba-gani (松葉蟹). [2022.12.28]
The crab season of 2022 began on the 6th of November. [2022.12.28]
At our ryokan, we had a chance to have the seasonal snow crab for dinner. [2022.12.28]


Outside the train station, a large rack displays rows of geta (下駄) or wooden sandals from the different ryokans in Kinosaki Onsen. As a popular onsen resort, the ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) in Kinosaki Onsen form an integral part of the local community for centuries. [2022.12.29]
Upscale Mikiya Ryokan (三木屋) was the favorite place to stay for famous writer Naoya Shiga (志賀直哉), who penned his well known work At Cape Kinosaki at the ryokan. [2022.12.28]
Ten days before our departure, we booked the last ryokan room available for our intended date on a booking website. Not sure if it was a cancelled room from another traveler, but we were delighted to stay at Tsukimotoya Ryokan for the night and two meals. [2022.12.28]
After check in at the ryokan, a staff brought us our yukata, towels and socks for going out to the seven bathhouses. We were surprised to find out that the yukata did keep us warm while walking in the resort town at just a few degrees above freezing. [2022.12.28]

BEAUTY (美しさ)

Kinosaki Onsen has been a famous spa resort for over a millennia. [2022.12.29]
While the evening belongs to bathhouse hoping, the morning is the best time to take in the tranquil beauty of Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.29]
Between bathing and dining, checking out the small shops on the main streets was also a highlight of a Kinosaki visit. [2022.12.28]
Having a cup of coffee at a local cafe while watching people in traditional yukata walk by was a great way to chill out in Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.29]

SOBA & THEATRE, Izushi (出石), Hyogo (兵庫), Japan

After visiting the castle ruins, we returned to the old town of Izushi (出石城下町) and wandered around the Shinkoro Clock Tower (辰鼓楼). Built in 1871, Shinkoro Clock Tower is considered to be the oldest Japanese style clock tower. Next to the clock tower, we picked Kogetsudo Uchibori Store (湖月堂 内堀店) for a meal of the famous Izushi sara soba (buckwheat noodles in small plates). Washing down the soba with the delicious dashi sauce and local sake turned out to be one of the highlight dining experiences of our trip. Unlike the soba in the rest of Japan, Izushi soba is served in five sara (small plates) and a dashi dipping sauce (soup made from fish and kelp), mixed with raw egg and spices. It is said that Izushi sara soba was originated in the 18th century by fusing soba making techniques of two different clans. The unique Izushi soba soon became popular in the region. To enhance the unique dining experience, the community started producing Izushi yaki, a white and blue porcelain set specifically for their soba. Each of the 40+ soba restaurants in Izushi has its own unique Izushi yaki and sara soba. Too bad we didn’t have time to try them all out.

After the amazing soba, we lingered in the town centre and slowly found our way towards Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre (出石永楽館). Built in 1901, Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre is probably the oldest surviving theatre in Northern Kansai specialized in Kabuki. Listed as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a unique performing art form originated in Kyoto during the early Edo period (1603 – 1867). We never got a chance to watch a Kabuki performance or visit a Kabuki theatre, despite passing by Kengo Kuma’s Kabuki-za (歌舞伎座) in Ginza a few times during our Tokyo visits. This time in Izushi, we were pleased to have the opportunity to visit Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre, especially knowing that the theatre was restored and reopened to the public in 2008 after a 44-year closure. After taking off our shoes at the entry, we were free to roam around the seating decks, wooden stage and backstage area. Walking on the age-old wooden floor in just our socks felt homey and pleasant. Kabuki performances are well known for having actors appearing on stage in surprises. Standing at the audience deck, we could imagine actors suddenly come close to the audience via the raised walkway hanamichi (花道), or doing theatrical tricks with the mawari-butai (revolving stage). After visiting the theatre, it was time for us to return to Toyooka and continued our journey to Kinosaki Onsen.

At the heart of old Izushi, Shinkoro Clock Tower is considered to be the oldest Japanese style clock tower. [2022.12.28]
At the base of the clock tower, Toujou Restaurant (出石手打皿そば登城) offers a amazing setting for a decent soba dining experience. [2022.12.28]
Sharing the same view of the clock tower and fish pond, Soba Honjin Tsuruya (そば処 本陣鸛屋) is another soba restaurant at the heart of Izushi. [2022.12.28]
At last, we picked Kogetsudo Uchibori (湖月堂 内堀店) for sara soba. [2022.12.28]
The sara soba was one of the most fantastic meals of our trip. [2022.12.28]
The old town of Izushi is filled with old timber houses. [2022.12.28]
We walked slowly to Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre (出石永楽館), the attraction that we were particularly interested in. [2022.12.28]
We were greeted by artworks and gifts from fans as we entered Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre. [2022.12.28]
We were free to walk around the upper audience decks, the raised hanamichi (花道, “flower path”) left of the lower audience seats, the stage and upper backstage area. [2022.12.28]
We were captivated by the traditional ambience of the theatre. [2022.12.28]
The raised hanamichi (花道, “flower path”) led us up to the main stage. [2022.12.28]
We could get a sense on how actors would have felt from the stage. [2022.12.28]
Sometimes, the theatre is used for Rakugo performances (落語, storyteller performances). [2022.12.28]
Below the stage, we had a brief glimpse of the mechanism behind the Mawari-butai (revolving stage), which first emerged in the early 18th century. [2022.12.28]
Old posters at a hallway revealed how the traditional theatre art evolved in the modern times. [2022.12.28]
Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre maintains a low profile appearance from the exterior. [2022.12.28]
Just a stone throw from Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre, the wooden Oryu Lantern right by Taniyama River was a prominent beacon for boats during the Edo period. [2022.12.28]
The former docking area of Taniyama River now becomes a pleasant riverside park. [2022.12.28]
After a whirlwind visit to Izushi, we hopped on a local train from Toyooka for the last leg of our journey to Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.28]

WHITE CASTLE AND RED TORII, Izushi (出石), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan

For each of our trip to Japan, we often included at least one onsen visit. There were plenty of hot spring options in and around Kyoto, but we opted for one a little further west in Hyōgo Prefecture (兵庫県). While Hyōgo is famous for its night view in Kobe, medieval castle in Himeji and hilltop ruins in Takeda, hot springs at Arima Onsen and Kinosaki Onsen are equally popular for tourists. This time, we picked Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉) for its traditional hot spring facilities, picturesque village setting, and proximity to Japan Sea, where the seasonal snow crab harvest (winter only) came as a bonus. Before sunrise, we left our hotel for Kyoto Station. After a quick breakfast at the station, we hopped on the 7:32am Kinosaki Onsen bound limited express train. The ride would take about 2.5 hours, passing through the rural and lush green interiors of Hyogo. On the train, we discussed about how to spend the day before our ryokan check-in time in the afternoon. We thought of getting off a few stops earlier to visit the Museum for Wood Culture (木の殿堂) in the forest of Mikata-gun. But we gave up the idea due to the lack of public transportation options that area. We ended up getting off at Toyooka (豊岡市), one stop before Kinosaki Onsen. At the first glance, the capital of the former Tajima Province (但馬国) didn’t seem to have much to offer except bags. Known as the “City of Bags”, it was said that about 70% of bags produced in Japan came from Toyooka. But we didn’t come for bags. We came to make a brief visit of Izushi (出石), a castle town outside the city that features frequently in tourist brochures.

We stored our backpacks in lockers at the upper level of Toyooka Station, and hopped on a local bus. The bus quickly left the city and sped along Izushi River towards Izushi. We got off at the bus terminus beneath Mount Ariko (有子山), a lush green hill where the castle ruins still stand. After passing by several soba noodle shops, we arrived at the visitor parking lot and a wooden bridge over Taniyama River that seemed to be the entrance of Izushi Castle Ruins (出石城跡). Built in 1604 at the foot of Mount Ariko, the castle was actually the second castle of Izushi. It was indeed a replacement to an earlier complex at the hilltop. We didn’t have time to hike all the way up to check out the ruined foundations of the first castle, but spent time wandering around the grounds of the second castle, where two restored guardhouses offered us a glimpse of its former glory. Standing out vividly against the white castle structures, a series of red torii gates revealed that an Inari Shrine must be nearby. We followed the torii gates uphill until reaching a tree-shaded terrace where stone foxes and lanterns flanked both sides of a short procession route. At the end, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神) stood silently under several old pine trees. We carefully walked over the muddy ground covered with fallen leaves to the cliff edge overlooking the town. After spending some time in the shadows of torii gates and old pine trees, it was fascinating to see the open vista of the old town, Izushi River Valley and distant hills further beyond. After the visit of the ruined castle and Shinto shrine, we couldn’t wait to head back down for the most famous product of Izushi – soba noodles.

There are three limited express train daily from Kyoto to Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.28]
Our train sped through the suburb of Kyoto and entered a misty and frosty country. [2022.12.28]
The turquoise stream briefly reminded us the scenery of the Japanese Alps in Kamikochi. [2022.12.28]
Built in 1576, Fukuchiyama Castle was dismantled in 1872 and reconstructed in 1986. Today, Fukuchiyama Castle Park (福知山城公園) is the main attraction for the sleepy town. [2022.12.28]
Like many nations, there was a trend in Japan during the pandemic that city dwellers were moving into the countryside for bigger houses and cleaner air. [2022.12.28]
Modern Toyooka, capital of the former Tajima Province (但馬国), doesn’t host a lot of attractions in the city, but may serve as a good base to visit the nearby sites, including Izushi castle town. [2022.12.28]
We got off at the small bus terminus of Izushi and walked over to Izushi Castle Ruins (出石城跡) below Mount Ariko (有子山). [2022.12.28]
A lovely wooden bridge welcomed us at the entrance of the Izushi Castle Ruins (出石城跡). [2022.12.28]
In 1979, the Tojo gate and guard tower of the second castle of Izushi were rebuilt. [2022.12.28]
The rebuilt structures offered us a glimpse of the castle’s former glory. [2022.12.28]
Built in 1604, Izushi Castle stood as an icon of the Tajima region until the Meiji Period. [2022.12.28]
37 red torii gates stood adjacent to the castle site, leading us up to the Inari Shrine. [2022.12.28]
Just 157 steps would bring us to the shrine. [2022.12.28]
The torii gates reminded us of our visit of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, the head shrine of all Inari shrines. [2022.12.28]
After a short climb we arrived at Arikoyama Inari Shrine (有子山稲荷神社). [2022.12.28]
Some say there are about 32,000 Inari shrines throughout Japan. [2022.12.28]
Regarded as the messengers of the deity, fox is always featured at an Inari shrine. [2022.12.28]
Some visitors wrote their wishes on ema (絵馬) wooden plaques and hang them at the side wall of the shrine. [2022.12.28]
The shrine stood in the shade of several old pine trees. [2022.12.28]
We enjoyed the open scenery of the old town below the shrine. [2022.12.28]
We descended down the torii gates towards the old town of Izushi. [2022.12.28]