For visitors eager to discover and experience the Archipelago, the attractiveness of a region can be measured by the range of activities and pleasures it has to offer. The northern prefectures of Hyōgo and Kyōto, where the Sea of Japan hits the coasts, is the perfect example of an attractive and desirable region for all types of travellers, whether they like local gastronomy, luxurious ambiences, a change of scenery, remarkable nature or relaxing breaks. The essence of an unforgettable journey!
Kyōto by the Sea
For the collective imagination of the world's travellers, it is a safe bet that the simple name Kyōto immediately evokes this ancient capital of Japan, with its incomparable heritage. And yet, the eponymous prefecture conceals another face, far from the surrounding tumult that swirls around the temples and sanctuaries of Kyoto: a Kyōto on the seaside! For yes, this prefecture with the famous name enjoys a most charming and pleasant coastline for several kilometers, facing the immensity of the Sea of Japan. This preserved coastline benefits from an exceptional nature, flora and fauna that make it fascinating.
Amanohashidate, a glimpse of paradise
The literal translation of the town of Amanohashidate, in the bay of Miyazu, leaves one dreaming: the bridge to paradise. This translation is by no means usurped, knowing that the city is the scene of one of the three most famous sights in Japan. It was Hayashi Gahō, a man of letters of the Edo period, who classified these natural views in his work Nihonkoku jiseki kō, "From the heritage of Japan". A true dreamlike picture emerges before the eyes of visitors impressed by this creative nature. A tombolo, a 3.6 km long sandy barrier beach that connects two stretches of land, connects the two opposite shores of Miyazu Bay for a natural spectacle of great beauty. Approximately 20 to 170 meters wide, the tombolo is covered with pine trees and sand, so visitors can walk along it, delighted to step on this work of Mother Nature in just an hour. And as a work of art can also be appreciated from afar, the visitor can look at the bay from a different perspective. Several viewpoints from the surrounding mountains offer travellers the opportunity to enjoy the panorama and the view of the bay from a distance... to practice a confusing custom on paper: the matanozoki! This ancestral tradition puts the visitor in a very special position. One must then turn one's back to the bay, bend (or even bend) forward and try to look, between one's legs, at the "bridge to paradise". Why this sudden gymnastics? The tombolo then looks like a bridge floating in the sky or a dragon flying between the clouds. This place is truly imbued with Shinto mythology, it is also the cradle of a sacred sake, traditionally offered to the gods. The Motoise Kono sanctuary, opposite the tombolo, if one comes from the station, punctuates the visit with its mystical and exotic atmosphere. At Amanohashidate, the visitor also has the opportunity to enjoy a course in food and wine pairing, led by a certified sommelier. When gastronomy mingles with the beauty of the place..
Ine, the belle of the coast
Not far away, to the north, nestles Ine, considered one of the most beautiful villages in Japan. This fishing village is famous in the hearts of the Japanese for its houses, built on the water and called funaya; they also serve as boat garages. They are said to date back to the early 18th century. This local and picturesque architecture has been preserved from natural disasters, such as tsunamis, thanks to its location, nestled between reliefs, facing south. These wooden houses are thus protected from the Sea of Japan and its potential threats. Thanks to this heritage heritage, it is a real journey back in time that awaits visitors, charmed by the unique atmosphere of these small streets and the "water taxis", which allow to move in an original way and enjoy another point of view on the funaya. Electric bike hire is also a pleasant option to discover Ine at your own pace. The traveller, bewitched by the place, can also put down his suitcases in one of the houses transformed into a bed and breakfast for a magical night facing the sea. For the most gourmets, it is also possible to take sashimi lessons with the fresh fish caught the same morning. In other words, the softness and smoothness of the fish flesh is a delight for the palate. The topology of the place and the mild climate offer an ideal setting for the local gastronomy. Thus the famous Taiza Matsuba crabs, very popular in Japan, enjoy a perfectly adapted living environment thanks to the mountain springs that flow into the water, itself protected by a UNESCO geopark. The lush landscapes, pure water and air are also conducive to the cultivation of very high quality rice. Several sake breweries, with distinct flavours, have settled in this region, which proves the beautiful quality of the water and rice. But the mild climate not only influences the local gastronomy, it also influences the craftsmanship. Chirimen Tango silk, with its 300 years of history, is the precious component for the creation of quality kimonos. Humidity and appropriate temperatures are conducive to the manufacture of this silk, some of the craftsmen have even achieved world renown with performances at the Paris Fashion Week
Kinosaki Onsen, a little corner of paradise
Not far from the town of Toyooka, north of Hyōgo prefecture, nestles, in the heart of the lush nature of the UNESCO World Geopark, San'in Kaigan, a remarkable spa resort: Kinosaki Onsen. Approximately 2h30 from Kyōto and Ōsaka by train, this authentic and picturesque Japanese city is home to the famous hot springs for the no less famous Japanese thermal baths. When visiting the city, the traveller has the pleasant sensation of wandering in a ryokan, these traditional Japanese open-air inns, with the streets as corridors, the real ryokan as bedrooms and the multiple onsen as bathrooms. There are seven onsen, all public and within walking distance of each other. Strolling around Kinosaki Onsen is a perfect opportunity to blend into the history of Japanese onsen culture and enjoy their benefits in a moment of calm and rest, like a gift to oneself.
Soto yu, or the art of onsen
The culture of public bathing in Japan, called soto yu, is an integral part of the city's daily life and is also one of the main activities of this charming region. These baths are appreciated as much for their benefits to the body, with the relief of certain ailments, such as muscle aches and digestive disorders, as for their benefits to the mind. When a traveller stays in one of the ryokan of the city, he gets an onsen pass which then gives him free access to the famous seven baths of the city, most of them open from early morning until late at night. For day visitors, it is also possible to have access to one of the baths or to get a day pass. To top it all off, Kinosaki Onsen has a very tolerant policy towards tattoos, which reassures tattooed visitors who are afraid of being denied access to these mythical baths. Several of them have additional assets to make the experience even more memorable: saunas, whirlpools, outdoor baths, views of the surrounding nature... And to make the tourist experience complete, it is highly recommended to slip into the shoes of a local while on holiday in the city. The best way to discover the city is to walk around dressed in a yukata, the traditional casual kimono, and wearing geta, the Japanese wooden sandals. These accessories, provided in the ryokan of Kinosaki Onsen, accentuate the picturesque side of the city and its charming streets lined with small shops, restaurants and bars. The sense of hearing is also awakened by the exquisite sound of the geta clacking on the ground with every step, like a musical note characteristic of these spa towns in Japan.
The legend of creation
The history of Kinosaki Onsen goes back some 1,300 years. The town was founded by the Buddhist monk, Dōchi Shōnin, who travelled throughout Japan in search of different ways to care for the sick. While staying in the area for the first time in 717 A.D., he received an oracle from a god asking him to chant a Buddhist sûtra for 1,000 consecutive days. At the end of this 1,000 days, legend has it that the water from the hot spring began to gush out of the ground. This is how the therapeutic properties of onsen were discovered. Even today, the inhabitants of the region still attach great importance to these properties. For the curious visitor, one must go to the present Mandara-yu to experience the onsen that gave birth to the spring
Remarkable craftsmanship and nature
In addition to its onsen, the city is famous for its straw marquetry, mugiwara zaiku, which is an integral part of its history. Since the Edo period, about 300 years ago, this craft has highlighted the manufacture of ornaments using straws dyed in different colours, cut into thin stems and assembled together. The pattern, thus created, is then used to decorate a number of objects, including boxes and fans. In Japan, this craft is extremely rare since the few craftsmen who still sublimate this ancestral know-how are all in Kinosaki. A unique souvenir of a trip to the city, the visitor can also appreciate this art at the Straw Marquetry Museum, or even try it out!
For lovers of fairytale nature, Takeno beach, not far from Kinosaki Onsen, is a jewel to be discovered absolutely. Along the north coast of the prefecture, this magnificent beach offers an idyllic setting for walkers, between its turquoise and transparent water and its pure and soft sand. Considered as one of the 100 most beautiful beaches of the Archipelago, Takeno is an excursion that deserves all the attention of the travellers; they will also have the pleasure to discover there a traditional fishing village of the most charming.
Did you know that?
The eastern white stork, kōnotori, is an integral part of the landscape in Toyooka. More than that, it is also an invaluable aid to the environmentally friendly cultivation of local rice. Although the stork disappeared from the Japanese landscape after the war due to intensive use of pesticides, it was able to rise from its ashes in 1989 following a captive breeding program. After crucial years, the storks were able to regain their freedom in Toyooka in 2005, 40 years after their disappearance. While the use of pesticides is becoming rarer, the stork can now revel in the pests in the rice fields to protect the harvest in a natural way, a harvest that has also been rethought by the city in a more reasoned manner. To see the kōnotori in their natural environment, it is advisable to go to the Oriental Stork Park at Hyōgo in Toyooka
Nishimuraya Honkan, Japanese style sumptuousness
Luxury and voluptuousness, two names that harmonize perfectly with the sumptuous Nishimuraya Honkan, an authentic and historic ryokan nestled in the heart of Kinosaki Onsen. This traditional Japanese hostel, whose tradition has now been passed down for seven generations, is a velvet jewel case for travellers in the region, eager to taste the charms of Japanese style overnight stays and to touch with their finger the perfection that is not of this world. Today a member of Relais et Châteaux, the Nishimuraya Honkan tells us more than 150 years of history. Originally, the place served as an office for the regional government, used by the samurai. After being bought by the Nishimura family, this architectural marvel became what it is today, a ryokan trusting the top of the basket of the most beautiful ryokan in Japan and which will celebrate its 160 years of activity in 2020
Welcomed by a large wooden and tiled fence, the visitor enters a world apart, a world of luxury and detail, a cocoon of wood, tatami and greenery. The ryokan knows how to marvel from the very first steps thanks to its Japanese garden which is outlined in the central courtyard and which can be appreciated from the corridors of the place. Most of the rooms overlook this very well kept outdoor space, where pine trees, statues of moss covered stones and meticulously trimmed bushes stand. Only the lapping of the carps in the water of the small ponds could delicately disturb the beauty of this painting. The annex, built in 1960, perpetuates the beauty of the place thanks to the talents of the great architect Masaya Hirata and his sûkiya style. This style, often linked to the architecture and aesthetics of tea houses, represents the very essence of Japanese tradition in the collective imagination, like a vision of Japan dreamt of by Westerners. The natural materials, the relaxed atmosphere and the particular attention to detail are the main components of this style, which marvellously marries the idea of a night in a ryokan. Everything is thought out, from the design of the rooms to the different views of the garden, to make your stay a total success.
Nishimuraya Honkan's 34 rooms are the ultimate in awakening the senses of the visitor, who is immersed in a world of unique and rich atmosphere from the very threshold of the doorway, between tatami mats, white paper sliding doors and idyllic views of the garden's wooded terraces. Guests can choose between a single or a two-room room, but also, in order to experience the magnificence of the place, they can prefer to pack their bags in one of the rooms or suites with private garden and open-air bath, to reach a spiritual state of happiness in front of so much beauty and luxury. Visitors can also choose to relax in one of the many common areas of the ryokan, which are wonderfully suited to the history and atmosphere of the place. A museum, with subdued lights, traces the 150 years since the foundation and reveals an impressive collection of photographs, paintings and objects related to the past of the ryokan, Kinosaki Onsen and Japan in general. The "Seigetsuro" lounge is a haven of peace for relaxing over a cup of coffee or tea. The pleasures of the palate are certainly not forgotten and the cuisine served at the Nishimuraya Honkan is a marvellous tribute to traditional Japanese gastronomic meals in the kaiseki style. Chef Etsunobu Takahashi, who has been working in this ryokan since 2000, delights in offering his guests refined, quality cuisine prepared with seasonal ingredients, and making regional specialties for the most discerning palates, including Tajima beef, Matsuba crab and organic rice from Kōnotori. Every dish, every dishware and every detail of the gourmet meal is suitable for visual contemplation. Art truly invites itself to the table of the guests who enjoy dinner in the privacy of the rooms. Nishimuraya Honkan has three different styles of onsen for the enjoyment of guests who will be spoilt for choice. Kichino-yu allows guests to relax and unwind in indoor and outdoor baths in the refined setting of the bamboo groves, while smelling the sweet fresh scent of the surrounding cypress woods. Fukuno-yu differs from early traditional Japanese baths with its round shapes and check patterns, which invite you to let go. Shouno-yu, on the other hand, offers the experience of an indoor hot spring with the Hiratakan courtyard gardens, which change with the seasons, adding to the pleasure of the onsen the pleasure of contemplation. Reality then seems very far away
For the man of letters Hayashi Gahō, Amanohashidate has one of the three most famous views in Japan with its water-splitting tombolo. This sublime panorama invites the traveller to take the time to admire one of the most fascinating coastlines. Observing "the bridge to paradise", with your head upside down between your legs, is part of the folklore. Enough to be tempted!
In Kinosaki Onsen, it is highly recommended to live the Japanese spa experience to the fullest by wearing traditional yukata and geta clothing as you wander through the charming little streets lined with tempting shops. It is also an opportunity to go from one onsen to another in the most chic and refined style. A change of scenery guaranteed.
Kinosaki Onsen offers a very special atmosphere in summer, when the vegetation becomes even more luxuriant and the temperatures run amok. Fireworks are then set off every day of the week, except during the Obon period, between the end of July and the end of August, creating an enchanting festive atmosphere.
For an enchanting break in a setting that is just as enchanting, a stroll along Takeno beach is highly recommended. One of the 100 most beautiful beaches in Japan, Takeno has magnificent assets to seduce travelers, with its turquoise water and soft sand in mind. The visitor can also walk along a pleasant path that will lead him to the tip of the peninsula, where a superb view awaits him.
In order to get a taste of Japanese luxury, an overnight stay at Nishimuraya Honkan is an option to be seriously considered. The historic establishment offers travellers the ingredients for an Edenic experience with its sublime rooms, gourmet cuisine and relaxing onsen. An enchanting parenthesis to write in your travel journal.