Guided tour of Kyoto: the most amazing old public baths in the city

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Step back in time as you explore Kyoto’s hidden onsen culture.

There’s so much to see and do in Kyoto that you could spend a lifetime of discovering new gems in the historic old capital. One way to methodically tick these hidden gems off your bucket list is to divide them into categories like historic sites, restaurants, shops and bathhouses, and for that last category, Japan Rail has a way to help. .

Called “Zen at Yu Totonou Kyoto“, resulting in “Ready for Kyoto: Zen and Hot Springs», this is a special open house campaign only available from January 7th to March 13th. Our Japanese-speaking reporter Egawa Tasuku was recently invited to try the tour for himself, so let’s join him on his journey through the hot springs section of the deal to find out what it’s all about.

▼ Leaflet for “Zen at Yu Totonou Kyoto

When Egawa arrived in Kyoto for the visit, he was surprised to find that many bathhouses are easily accessible on foot from the bustling center of Kyoto Station, and the city still has over 100 working bathhouses – which is no small feat. day by day, when public baths are unfortunately closing their doors all over the country.

Before heading to his hotel for the night, Egawa stopped at the JR Tokai Tours agency, located at the central exit of the Shinkansen at Kyoto Station to pick up his “Totonou Set”, sold by JR Central for 2 000 yen (17.44 USD).

▼ The set includes a beautiful towel with a tag that reads “Yes, Kyoto, let’s go.

The Totonou set is just one of the campaign options, and it’s a great deal because it includes bath tickets for some public baths belonging to the Kyoto Prefectural Bath Association, numbered tickets to worship at participating temples and a map summarizing all the bathhouses, temples and restaurants you can visit as part of the promotion.

▼ Egawa decided to dive into the bathhouse section of the tour first, starting with a visit to funaoka-onsen.

Funaoka Onsen is a bit far from Kyoto Station compared to other bathhouses in the city, but it is very famous. The public bath has 807 reviews and 4.3 stars on Google at the time of this writing, which is an impressive rating for a humble bathhouse in Kyoto.

▼ When the long noren is at the entrance, this onsen is open for business.

Funaoka Onsen has been designated tangible cultural propertyand although the wooden building itself dates from 1923, the interior is modern and spacious.

▼ It is also beautifully light and airy.

▼ In addition to the main public bath, there is also a sauna…

▼ …and a spotless washing area, with a cypress bath here too.

▼ Outside is a lovely courtyard, where you can see carp swimming in a quiet pond.

This is where visitors can bathe in open-air baths with an amazing atmosphere. Check out the dragon that spits hot water from its mouth!

▼ One of the few places in Japan where you can bathe under a springing dragon.

Beauty isn’t just for bathing areas – the dressing room ceiling is beautifully carved with an image of the long nose Tengu Kuramaa mythical creature said to have lived on nearby Mount Kurama.

In Tokyo, a visit to a hot spring will cost you around 1,000 yen, but the fee to use Funaoka Onsen is only 450 yen for adults, 150 yen for elementary school students and 60 yen for children. preschoolers and infants, which is really a lot. Doing the math, if an adult came every day, it would only cost 13,950 yen for 31 days, which is cheaper than a month’s gas bill at Egawa for hot water.

Shampoos and other items are also sold at low prices reminiscent of simpler times. With so many bath accessories available for purchase, you better bring a towel here and pay for the rest of what you need. If Egawa lived in the neighborhood, he would bathe there every day.

After his visit to Funaoka Onsen, Egawa had worked up an appetite, so he headed to Sarasa Nishijina cafe about a block from the bathhouse.

This cafe is inside what used to be an old bathhouse called “Fujinomori Onsen“. As shown in the photo below, the name of the old onsen can still be seen above the entrance.

The building’s former life as a bathhouse lives on in the new cafe, with its original ceiling and tiled walls creating a stunning interior.

▼ Old plumbing features like these are reminiscent of the heyday of bathhouses.

▼ The ceiling feature is particularly stunning, flooding the space below with natural light that creates a unique ambience.

The cafe’s former life as a bathhouse isn’t its only claim to fame – it’s also appeared in the anime K-On!

The cafe attracts anime fans, history buffs, bathhouse enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a good meal in the area.

▼ The recommended dish here is “turkish rice(1,300 yen).

▼ How beautiful is this handwritten menu?

Combine a meal with Sarasa Nishijin with a trip to funaoka-onsen is a wonderfully relaxing way to spend a morning or afternoon, and with great temples like Kinkakuji (the “Golden Pavilion”) and Imamiya Shrine within walking distance, you can easily fit all of these sites into the one day itinerary.

With other bathhouses included in JR’s Totonou set, Egawa decided to stay a few nights in Kyoto so he could put the deal to good use. After sightseeing during the day, Egawa was able to rest his tired muscles by heading to an onsen at the end of each day, which made him sleep like a baby at night, recharging and energizing him for the next day. .

Egawa loved immersing himself, literally, in the local bathing culture, and now he wants to show us around the “Zen” part of the trip. But first… he goes for a last bath at Funaoka Onsen.

Related: Totonou Campaign Site
Photos © SoraNews24

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