It's already December and it's time to start thinking about how you're gonna stay warm when the temperatures really start dropping (which will probably happen any day now).
So here's a suggestion from KyoTours: head out of Kyoto city and into the mountains, and take a dip at Kurama Onsen!
This onsen is featured as an optional (but recommended!) stop on our Mount Kurama Hiking Tour, and it's one of the best bathing experiences in Kyoto. Many foreign visitors to Kyoto miss out on this hot spring because it's not exactly convenient to get to. About 30 minutes outside of the city, it requires a few rail transfers from the heart of the city and a few separate ticket fares.
I really like bringing guests to Kurama Onsen because it offers an authentic onsen experience in a secluded location outside of the city. It's usually not very crowded, so it's perfect for first-timers who are a little shy (hey, we've all been there!) Some of the public baths in the city are really nice, but feel very modern and commercial, while Kurama village has a more rustic countryside feel to it.
Upon arrival at Kurama Station, you're greeted by a huge statue of a tengu, mythical long-nosed red goblins that are found in various Japanese legends. In fact, the king of the tengu himself is supposed to reside at Mount Kurama, so keep your eyes open. The onsen itself is thankfully tengu-free, and you can reach it by a 15 minute walk or a free shuttle van that departs from the station at regular intervals. Be sure to check out Kuramadera Temple and Kibune Shrine further up the mountain, both of which which will definitely put you in the mood for a soak in the hot springs after the hikes required to see these impressive religious sites.
The onsen itself offers two ways to experience Japanese hot springs. The most famous part of Kurama Onsen is the rotenburo, the outdoor pool. It's great any time of year, but particularly stunning in the autumn when the mountainside turns golden, or in winter when snow blankets the landscape. Most Kyoto locals agree that Kurama has the best rotenburo in the city!
You can enter the rotenburo for 1000 yen, but the fee doesn't include a towel, so bring your own or pay an extra 400 yen.
...But that's not how you should experience Kurama Onsen - well, not the full experience at least. For 2500 yen (which I admit is a steep price for an onsen) you can get the "day trip package" that includes towels, robes, and also gives you access to the indoor bath. This is a more traditional mineral bath, as well as a small sauna and cold water pool. It's not the biggest or most lavish indoor onsen you'll ever experience, but the water is well known to contain excellent sulfuric minerals that improve your skin and muscles.
So there you are enjoying the full package that includes both indoor and outdoor baths, and you decide you want to take a nap after your bath. No problem! Included in the full package is access to the relaxation room upstairs - a huge open space with pillows, mats, and blankets. There is nothing - NOTHING - as wonderful as an afternoon nap after a soak in an onsen. And to top it all off, you get to wear traditional yukata robes anywhere in the onsen, so deciding to take a second or third bath is as simple as untying your sash and hopping back into the pool.
Kurama Onsen is one of the best hot spring experiences in the Kyoto area, and KyoTours would love to take you there. If you're first time in an onsen, don't worry! Your guide will explain all the etiquette before you enter. If you're still feeling a little shy, you can choose to bathe separately from your guide as well. The onsen can be added on to our Mount Kurama Hiking Tour, or if you want to make a special trip out of the city just for the hot springs, we can arrange that for you. For the full experience, stay at the onsen for dinner and enjoy local specialties including steaming hotpot stews filled with duck and wild boar.
See you in Kurama Onsen!