A couple of weeks ago I went to Kinosaki, an onsen town in the north of Hyogo Prefecture, about 3 hours by car from OKC. Kinosaki is a small town in the middle of nowhere, and while the surrounding area has nothing of real interest, Kinosaki is a tourist hotspot, with people coming from miles around to stay in the traditional ryokan and onsen-hop from one of Kinosaki’s seven famous onsens to the next. We stayed in one of said expensive ryokans overnight, and it was a great experience. To start with, the ryokan we stayed in had three private onsens- one in an outside courtyard, one more traditional one with two circular baths, and one with bamboo and special “wet” tatami around it. For our tens of thousands of yen we got a magnificent course dinner, large traditional Japanese breakfast, and excessively attentive service. The highlight of the stay though was dressing up in the provided yukata, and wandering around the town to join the assembled crowds. Being (seemingly) the only gaijin in Kinosaki at that time, I got lots of stares as I hobbled around in my traditional geta shoes. But it was all worth it- the yukata are comfy and kakkoi, with excessive long sleeves that you can store all manner of things in- keitai, keys, tabacco, like a wizard! (well, a wizard with a mobile phone).
As night approached we sat on our window seat overlooking the street with beers and umeshu, while families and couples hobbled past below, only showing their feet beneath the large brilliantly coloured umbrellas they held as they went from one onsen to the next. The only sounds were the click-clacking of shoes and the pitter-patter of the rain, until a ramen van added its looping tones to the night, further increasingly the feeling of some sort of “traditional” scene, far away from the Japan of pachinko parlours, karaoke and Shinkansen. It was an incredibly peaceful place, and a really nice weekend away.