The first stop on our Japan tour was Kinosakionsen; we had a one night layover waiting for both of our boyfriends to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto to meet us. Both suffering a little from the after effects of the Special Tour, I think we were glad to spend the day in Nagoya, taking our time to say our very teary goodbyes.
We went for one last meal with a few Omotenashi students, Teams and organisers at a place Ino recommended - a Nagoya speciality, even - Yabaton Misokatsu! You can find out more about it from their English Website, and if you're ever in Nagoya it's an absolute treat, so don't miss out!
From here we experienced Suitcase Wars Episode VI: Return of the Baggage. This ordeal again. Somehow we made it to Kyoto in one piece, and luckily our Hotel - Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto - was directly opposite the station. The rooms are fairly big compared to most other hotels; the staff friendly and helpful and the free wifi a godsend. They have coin operated washers and dryers on the fourth floor, too, which we were able to freshen up some of our laundry with before leaving the next day.
As this was just a stopover, we didn't get up to much in the city. The next day we were able to store the majority of our luggage until our return six days later. As Kinosakionsen isn't a large city by any stretch, we needed to take a local train rather than Shinkansen to our destination.
The journey itself was painless, we managed to get a rapid express train, it was air conditioned and it was covered by our JRPasses. When we arrived there was a post-rain dewiness about the air, moreso than in the city, and we were worried with the hot springs it might bring bugs and biting insects. Surprising to say, but we had zero problems with mosquitos or their like the entire time we were there. Greeting us at the station, too, was a free shuttle bus to our hotel provided by the town for all visitors.
Although the town itself is small, it always helps to get your bearings having someone take you right there. We stayed at a Ryokan named Morizuya, which was at most a ten minute walk from the station up the river, and right in the middle of all the action. The beautiful decor outside of fountains with crabs and fish, umbrellas and soft lighting continued inside where a tatami waiting area is fitted with a turtle pool.
Check in was pretty easy, the staff didn't speak much English again. but they welcomed us warmly, providing a full tour of the inn and taking us to a room where Emi and I were able to choose from a variety of yukata to rent, as well as accessories like kanzashi, hair clips and fans. The boys were stuck with the same mens-standard (yet rabbit-print) yukata.
Once seated in our room, we met up with the other four members of our mini-trip, decked ourselves out in yukata and headed out to try our first bath! The hotel provided us with an English-Language map of the town with lists and locations of all the onsen and their specialties.
We chose Goshono-yu, as recommended by the hotel staff. This is the newest and largest of the main seven baths, and the outdoor area backs onto a beautiful waterfall which makes for a very relaxing bathing atmosphere. Of course, as most public baths are, Goshono-yu has gender-seperated bathing spaces, so our party split in two.
As it was a festival night, when it hit 8pm we could hear the Taiko drums in the shrine begin to beat, drawing us back outside to the festivities. In the shrine area there were festival games like catch the fish, crab racing, and the drummers were calling onlookers up onto the stage to have a go. After a look around we headed down to the river to watch the firework display.
All of the yukata-clad visitors crowded the arched bridges and banks to watch the fireworks - it was pretty spectacular. Between the excited, dressed up crowd and the town jumping right out of a Shinsengumi-Era drama it was really magical.
After the display and the bath we were pretty hungry. I'd left our guidebook of the town in the hotel room, so we just wandered around looking for the first place to catch our eye. It didn't take us long to stumble upon Naru, a BBQ restaurant where we were able to select our type of meat, any sides and grill it to our liking. For simple food, it was probably the tastiest we've had so far in Japan!
Bellies full, we went for a wander down the river to grab some ice cream and sparklers. We played around for an hour or so before succumbing to tiredness and heading back up to the ryokan to sleep.
The next day, we checked out, the staff were accommodating and let us store or luggage while we went out for breakfast at one of the recommended cafes, Sorella. We were really impressed with their iced coffee and latte menu, as well as the delicious honey toast they offered - probably the closes thing to a western breakfast we could get!
We had a bit of a journey ahead of us, so we departed Kinosaki in the sunshine around 1pm, said goodbye to our friends and moved on to our next destination - Hiroshima!