Soak In History At Arima Onsen, The Oldest Onsen In Japan | CoolJapan

A hidden treasure often overlooked and chosen over the exquisite Kyoto and ancient Nara, Arima onsen is about to become your new favourite day trip from Osaka.

The billowing steam from the hot springs can be even viewed from the main walking street 

Transportation to Arima is effortless. Just an hour away by bus from Kansai airport lies a charming little town reminiscent of Taipei’s Jiufen. The gentle curves of the alleys deliver one surprise after another. Fronted by various craftsmen and eateries in traditional shophouses, you can find anything from calligraphy brushes to craft beer. Despite it being a weekend, it wasn’t half as crowded as Kyoto on a weekday and most of the visitors were locals.

A tourist smells the fresh buns from the oven

A tourist wafting the smell of fresh buns steaming in the cold

A store facade with flowers

Charming shops selling unique products from the region

The highlight is definitely the onsen. With a history of over one thousand years, Arima Onsen is easily Japan's oldest hot spring resort. Emperor Jomei first visited it in 631, according to Japan's oldest historical record "Nihon Shoki." It has two types of hot spring waters: The Kinsen ("gold water"), brown with iron deposits, alleviates skin afflictions and muscle pain; and the clear Ginsen ("silver water") is rich in radium and relieves various muscle and joint ailments.

Three tourists dipping their feet in the water

Japanese tourists enjoying a soak in the hot springs readily available on the street

Heated 60 kilometres underground, the springs are actually ancient seawater of six million years ago from the Pacific Ocean and can be viewed gushing out in scattered corners of the main walking street, its billowing steam both magnificent and surreal. A geographical rarity in the world, the springs have salt content that is double that of the sea.

A figure of a large Buddha

A Buddha of Medicine in Onsenji Temple

We also paid a visit to Onsenji Temple, a temple with a Buddha of Medicine. “You can identify it by the canister in the Buddha’s left hand, containing the medicine,” our host pointed out. Indeed, the hot springs of Arima are a chock-full of goodness. Every four days, the pipes have to be changed. The hot springs are so rich in calcium that the deposits will completely fill up the tubes if left unchecked.

The amount of calcium deposits in just four days 

It’s hard to believe that all this is just an hour away from Kansai airport. So next time you find yourself in the neon drenched Osaka, ditch the hurrying crowds in the shiny industrial city for the quaint little town brimming with charm and churning with one of the world’s best hot springs.

Where to stay 

Inn Tocen Goshoboh has a cosy cafe and bar

You can visit Tocen Goshoboh, one of Arima's oldest ryokan, as a non-staying guest during daytime (open from 11:00 to 14:00). For only 1,650 yen, you can enjoy its atmospheric indoor stone pools, filled with Arima Onsen's "golden" hot spring water.

Where to have a break

A selection of Arima beer bottles

Local Arima beer

Enjoy local craft beer and unique sakes after your onsen at Sake Ichiba, where you can meet fellow travelers and practice your Japanese (alcohol is scientifically proven to help you speak a foreign language).