Alright, I’ll admit it — I’m an Onsen addict. I just love long soaks in mineral rich water, the heat of the water working its way down into bones, the feeling replenishment like a sponge squeezed dry — it gives me a feeling of lightness and purification. A seductive mix that has me constantly searching for opportunities to indulge.
Arima Onsen had long been on my radar for the reverence with which it is held by onsen fanatics. I was thanking my good fortune to find myself in Kobe with some time on my hands.
Arima Onsen has long been a desirable destination, with a history long enough to stake its claim as Japan’s oldest onsen. The first mention of Arima Onsen is thought to be well over a thousand years ago, in which a sacred 8th century text recounts the story of two gods happening upon three crows healing themselves in the water. With a subsequent, storied history as a destination for warriors seeking healing after battle, and for priests and gentry to soothe the ailments of time.
But there’s little doubt as to the healing properties of the water. The Japanese government has specified 9 constituent elements, such as iron, sulphur, and radium, that qualify onsen water as recuperative springs, and at least one of the elements must be present to gain the classification. Arima Onsen is truly blessed on these grounds, as this small area contains 7 of these elements in the water — a true rarity.
Arima Onsen is famous for two types of spring water — gold and silver, or kinsen and ginsen. The gold version contains high levels of iron and salt, 1.5 times to double that of seawater, thought to be good for chronic problems, including neuralgia and arthritis. The silver springs offer colorless carbonic water, reputedly good for boosting circulation and metabolism, helping clear lactic acids from the body, and reducing swelling. It’s commonly thought that the waters also promote cell activation, and boost the immune system while helping relieve aches and fatigue.
I was heading toward Choraku Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, situated on top of a hill, and surrounded by trees and pure air — the perfect place to relax.
Unfortunately, I had coordinated my arrival with rain clouds, but my day got brighter the moment I stepped off the courtesy bus and into the warm lobby. Elegant decorating and spacious facilities — the service fast, friendly, and efficient — I knew I’d hit the lodgings jackpot.
Before long I was stepping into a bubble of private tranquility — a framed painting hangs above a small arrangement of fresh flowers gathered from the ryokan’s grounds. Very nice. The easy chair looked mighty tempting, I could have just flopped into it and soaked up the view looking out over the mountains — but I had come for a different soak, and the baths awaited my presence.
Choraku provides a splendid array of options to enjoy the best of gold and silver bathing. If I have a particular favorite among hot springs, it’s the rotenburo open air baths, and Choraku has them in abundance. Add to the mix spa baths to better circulate the radon present in the water, standing baths for full immersion, and steam rooms to disperse the onsen water’s healing vapors. I’m well catered for here.
Baths are split by sexes, but if you want to spend just a little extra you can book an exclusive rotenburo surround by the greenery of the forest. Here you can bathe in privacy with your own family or accompanying guests, allowing you to peacefully breathe in the healing vapors of the water and the nearby negative ions from the forest. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect cocktail of healing air to cleanse your body and reset your mind.
For those wishing to indulge in just that little bit more luxury, Choraku has opened three villas on site where you can enjoy the material comfort of a gorgeous room, with the exclusiveness of having your own Ginsen and Kinsen rotenburo baths attached. I’ve made mental note to save up my pennies for the next visit, because that’s where I want to stay!
If you’re lucky enough to be in Japan during spring, the cherry blossoms surrounding Choraku are a special treat that you’ll long remember. Likewise, the fiery colors of fall will not disappoint. Visually this ryokan has a lot to offer its guests.
In summer, you’ll find a rare treat on offer. A large swimming pool onsite is filled with the onsen water, allowing you to grab a revitalizing soak in cool water during the summer heat.
Skipping between Kinsen and Ginsen baths, both inside and outside, and spending more than my fair share of time lying flat on my back on the wooden decking just taking it all in, I felt like I could stay there forever. Eventually, however, the stomach rumbles and priorities change.
Normally when I stay at a ryokan, I take the traditional kaiseki course, a gastronomic treat that epitomizes everything special about food culture in Japan. Looking over the menu, the set course at Choraku is heavily biased toward the freshest of seafood, a banquet befitting such a luxury destination. However, this time I was traveling alone, so I opted to visit the restaurant. My Kobe-gyu steak, the world-famous beef reared locally, lived up to my expectations, and literally melted in my mouth. Cooked to perfection, it was simply superb.
Reenergized, my mind once again drifted to a soak in the open air. It’s a perpetual loop I find myself in when visiting onsen, but one I have no intention of stopping anytime soon.
Photographs by Choraku & Text by Steve Jarvis