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).
HIERAPOLIS, Pamukkale, Turkey
Communal baths and gymnasiums were essential components in the ancient Roman society. Records show that 952 baths of different sizes could be found in Rome in 354 AD. Apart from building up the body and engaging on social gossip, a bath and gymnasium complex might also house a library, a theatre, food shops and reading rooms. Erected right at the hot spring of Pamukkale, Hierapolis was a prominent Roman spa resort. Other than the usual bathing rituals, bathing in Hierapolis was also a form of medical treatment. Founded in the 2nd century BC as a thermal spa town, where doctors used the hot springs to treat patients. In its heyday, Hierapolis had bath houses, gymnasiums, temples, fountains, theatre. Thousands would come to visit the hot spring, including the Roman emperors. The city of 100,000 became a wealthy city prominent for art, philosophy and trade. Outside the city wall, the enormous necropolis suggests that many ancient Romans who came to Hierapolis for medical treatment actually died in the spa city. The recently discovered Tomb of Philip the Apostle and a number of historical sites in Hierapolis suggest Christianity had taken a strong hold in the city from Late Antiquity to the Byzantine era.
Many tourists come to Hierapolis to take a dip in a pool among ruined marble columns. The pool is, in fact, doing a disservice to the archaeological conservation. We just spent time wandering around the ruins leisurely and aimlessly.
Red poppy and yellow wild flowers covered large parts of the ground among the ruins of Hierapolis.
Built in 2nd century AD under Emperor Hadrian, the theatre at Hierapolis has 45 rows of seats that could accommodate about 15,000 spectators.
Tombs and sarcophagus of different sizes could be found in the necropolis. Some sarcophagus were elevated by a post and beam structure.
The extensive necropolis stretches kilometers and contains thousands of tombs from different era.
We once again passed by the travertine terraces of Pamukkale as we left Hierapolis.
Instead of walking down the travertine terraces in barefoot once again, we opted for another winding path to descend. The path is not for people who scares of height.
COTTON CASTLE, Pamukkale, Denizli, Turkey
Three hours of bus ride took us from Selcuk to Pamukkale. Like everyone else, we came to Pamukkale for the spectacular travertine terraces. As we hopped off the bus, we were immediately approached by bus companies selling us tickets onward from Pamukkale. Along the path to the pools, we stopped by a small shop for a bowl of spicy Korean noodles. The first glance of the white travertine pools cascading up the slope under the blue sky was a truly spectacular sight. Pamukkale in Turkish literally means “cotton castle”. To many, the otherworldly scenery of the white and reflective travertine pools is one of the two most iconic natural wonders of Turkey (the other being the rock formations of Cappadocia). The travertine terraces at Pamukkale is made from continuous mineral deposit of hot spring accumulated for thousands of years. Calcium carbonate from the hot spring is deposited as a soft gel and gradually crystallizes into travertine. Pamukkale has been a popular tourist attraction for over two thousand years. Hieropolis, the spa resort town at Pamukkale, was founded in the 2nd century BC and flourished for centuries as a hot spring and healing resort in the Roman and Byzantine Empire. Today, Pamukkale continues to see large number of visitors from all over the world.
We entered the gate and soon found ourselves arriving at the remarkable travertine area. Shoes were not allowed, and visitor circulation was restricted to a designated path going uphill to the top. The only way to truly experience the pools up close was to take off our shoes and hiked up the travertine path in barefoot. Covered with layers of calcium deposit, walking uphill on the travertine was quite a torture for our feet. Along the way, we were disappointed to see that most pools had been dried up. Moreover, this site was just full of visitors jammed one after another on the path. Unless visiting at 8am during low season, it was next to impossible to enjoy the natural beauty without getting frustrated from overcrowding and misbehaving tourists. According to the UNESCO, this world heritage is threatened by over-tourism, hotel constructions near the pools, water pollution by bathers, illegal diversion of thermal water, etc. In recent years, hotels near the pools were removed, vehicular access banned, and pool access for tourists has been restricted, but overcrowding remains as an issue for the management to tackle.
The sheer scale of the white travertine terraces is quite spectacular.
We were lucky to have perfect blue sky during our visit.
The travertine terraces are as white as snow, but as hard as rocks.
The lower section of the terraces look fairy-tale like from a distance.
We were disappointed to see many terraces were dried up.
The scene would be quite different if the hot spring remained flowing down the terraces.
Other than Pamukkale, similar terraces and pools can be found elsewhere in the world, such as Hierve el Agua in Mexico and Huanglong in China. Each site has its own unique qualities.
The weather didn’t look too promising when we reached the top of the terraces.
Before the weather get any worse, we headed over to Hieropolis for a brief visit of the Roman ruins.
DAY 4 (2/3): RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.28
After two days of hiking in Kamikochi (上高地), it was time for us to take a dip into one of the famous onsens of the Japanese Alps. Out of the many hotsprings in the region, we picked Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉) because of its unique milky water. “Shirahone” literally means “white bone”, referring to the milky colour of the calcium carbonate rich hot spring water that resembles white bone soup. Shirahone Onsen is located at the eastern side of Mount Norikura (乗鞍岳) in the Northern Japanese Alps, in a secluded resort village tucked away from the country road between Matsumoto and Takayama. Public transportation to Shirahone Onsen remains scarce throughout the day, as most local visitors would go by their own cars.
We took a 8:25am bus from Kamikochi to Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal and National Park Gate, where we switched bus for Shirahone Onsen.
The Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal and National Park Gate serve as an access hub for Kamikochi visitors. Due to the restrictions on private cars and tour buses, many would park their car in Sawando and hop on a shuttle bus for Kamikochi.
From Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal, our local bus drove along a river gorge and through a series of tunnels before reaching Shirahone Onsen. We get off at right at the village entrance. Time was still too early to check in at our ryokan. We dropped down our backpacks at Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館) and ventured outside hoping to tour around the village and grab a bite.
Looking down to the gorge from the main village road, we were disappointed to discover the damaged public onsen bath. Probably damaged by local flooding, it seemed the public bath would be out of service in the near future.
It was a Monday morning and Shirahone village was extremely quiet. Other than a souvenir shop, almost everything was closed including the tourist office and the main restaurant. We were fortunate to stumble upon Baikoan (煤香庵), a traditional restaurant/ hot spring facility owned by Yumoto Saito Ryokan (湯元齋藤旅館), the oldest ryokan in the village.
The restaurant at Baikoan was not open, though the staff kindly made us coffee and chatted with us for a bit. He told us that outside of summer holidays, most restaurants would be closed on weekdays. All shops and restaurants were having difficulties to find helpers.
The dining hall was filled with interesting objects from the area, including a small “bear”.
Fire pit and hanging iron pot are common household features in the Japanese Alps.
Suggested by the staff, we each rented a towel and tried out their outdoor onsen.
At Baikoan (煤香庵), we each had our first dip into the milky water of Shirahone Onsen, the famous hot spring water with minerals that were said to work wonderful things to the body.
After the hot spring bath, we spent some time wandering in the village, checking out each of the buildings, small shrines, wild flowers, etc.
Near the village entrance, we found a long row of small stone kannons lined along a lush green wall.
The 33 kannons were donated by visitors in the Edo Period who came to Shirahone Onsen for curing their illness.
Right by the main road Route 300, a series of small waterfalls known as Ryujin Falls (竜神の滝) was a little surprise.
Down from Route 300, we descended into a densely vegetated gorge.
At the bottom of the gorge, we walked onto a wooden bridge to photograph a water cascade.
The wooden bridge was quite wet and covered with green moss.
The water cascaded out from a cavern about two hundred meters from the bridge.
Back to the main road, we climbed up a small berm to check out a small Shinto shrine.
Before checking in at Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), we stopped by the main village shop to get some snacks and drinks.
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)
Day 7 – WATAZE ONSEN, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 4 of 4, Japan
It was only a short bus ride from Hongu to Wataze Onsen, the hot spring hotel facility where we stayed the night. Wataze Onsen is famous for its outdoor hot spring bathing facilities, some of the largest in the region. We had another relaxing evening at Watarase Onsen Hotel, a perfect getaway destination in the mountains. No foreign tourists could be seen at the outdoor onsen, however, the large hotel complex was decently filled with local visitors to stay the night and some day-trippers who came for the hot spring only.
The bus passed by Kawayu Onsen, a special thermal spring where visitors can enjoy outdoor onsen by the river.
Bamboo screens were set up along the stream for public use.
After getting off at Wataze Onsen, we found our way down to the main lodging facilities called Watarase Onsen. After crossing a suspended bridge we finally reached the main door of the hot spring hotel.
The main lobby of Watarase Onsen Hotel.
A pilgrim monkey of Kumano Kodo at the hotel lobby.
The rotenburo (outdoor hot spring bath) of Wataze Onsen is one of the largest in West Japan.
The facility includes separate outdoor pools for male and female, as well as several family pools.
After bathing in the hot spring, we enjoyed a decent kaiseki-royori (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) at the Watarase hotel. This fresh assorted sashimi was served as appetizer.
The Watarase Onsen complex include lodging and bathing facilities along both sides of the river, connected by a suspended bridge.
After the kaiseki dinner, we took a stroll under the starry night.
The cherry trees at Watarase Onsen Hotel were still in full bloom.
It was a peaceful evening with cherry blossoms against the starry sky.
The next morning, we put on our backpacks again and crossed the suspended bridge one last time towards the bus stop.
At Watarase Onsen bus stop we waited for the early morning bus that would take us to Kii Katsuura. We would then store our bags in lockers and switch bus for a visit to Nachisan and the Nachi Taisha, one of the three main Kumano grand shrines after Kumano Hongu Taisha.
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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka