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A Solo Trip Through Kinosaki Onsen in Japan

How a journey through Japan can be just as memorable on your own.

By 4 min read

I share a common dilemma with many globe-trotters: wanting to travel everywhere but not always having someone to travel with me. I used to think that if I couldn’t get a buddy to come along on my adventures, then there were no adventures to be had.

It turns out that couldn’t be further from the truth. Since moving to Japan, I quickly learned that there are unique and incredible experiences that one may only be able to have while traveling solo.

Here’s my story of how one lonesome but relaxing weekend at an onsen (hot spring) town was unexpectedly eventful.

Finding my destination

Can you guess what food is famous in Kinosaki?

The first step to traveling solo? Using the internet and researching places that offer the specific experience you’re looking for. Japan has onsen at every corner of the country, but I wanted to visit a place resembling Spirited Away’s atmosphere. It wasn’t long until I stumbled upon an onsen town located in northern Hyogo Prefecture during my research called Kinosaki Onsen.

It’s a town filled with seven different kinds of onsen, where everyone roams around in yukata (traditional summer clothes), looking for a place to take a dip. So I was convinced Kinosaki would be perfect for a relaxing, self-care getaway.

When I arrived at Kinosaki, I was immediately overwhelmed by the gorgeous and old-fashioned atmosphere. I definitely wasn’t in the city anymore, and I couldn’t help feeling “spirited away” back in time to old Japan, just like the movie I loved.

In Kinosaki, a yukata is a formal wear.

There’s an information center near Kinosakionsen Station, where you can purchase a pass to visit all seven onsen for just ¥1,300. They had English-speaking staff, which made the process much easier, and I got all my questions answered to ensure a smooth trip.

Since everyone was sporting a yukata, wearing a T-shirt and jeans made me stick out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately, I wasn’t staying in a nearby ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel), so I had to scavenge for a nearby shop that offered yukata rentals. Luckily, there were a few rental shops sprinkled throughout the town. About ¥3,500 later, I was all dolled up and ready to blend in with my surroundings.

At least, that was the plan.

Meeting a TV star

A traditional summer yukata.

During my stroll around picturesque Kinosaki, I clumsily stumbled onto the set of a TV show called Ariyoshi-kun no Shoujiki Sanpo (Hanging Out With Mr. Ariyoshi). I hadn’t noticed the giant cameras, crew and equipment that surrounded me, catching me off guard.

I was a few feet away from me was Toshiaki Kasuga, a pretty big comedian in Japan! He made comments on how my yukata was cute, gave me a wink and then continued walking along the street. I was amused and incredibly puzzled at the same time. The encounter came and left like a revolving door, and I returned to my lovely solo adventure.

Traveling solo is great because you can do whatever you want for as long as you want, without having to worry about anyone else’s wants or complaints. Needless to say, I got all the pictures I wanted. After a long walk around the town, I decided to treat my feet to a hot ashiyu (foot bath). It was a nice moment of peace—but not for long!

 Getting “Discovered?”

I’m ready for my close-up.

While relaxing at the foot bath, a reporter meekly approached and asked if I’d like to answer some questions for an interview. With a camera crew positioned behind her, it looked pretty serious. So what could they possibly want to ask me?

It ended up being nothing too major, just some questions about where I was from and how I felt wearing yukata in Kinosaki. I was then told that my interview would air on a show called Sekai Fushigi Hakken, or “World Wonder Discovery” in English. I found it amusing that an American having a rest at a foot bath while wearing yukata was good enough material to air on the show.

No, for real, I made it on TV. Only in Japan!

Relaxing After a Day of Excitement

A brave way to make new friends.

After accidentally landing on two different TV shows, I thought it was about time I did what I originally planned to do: take a bath. Bath-hopping in the seven onsen around Kinosaki was like self-care taken to new heights. I could spend my sweet time relaxing in each one since I was alone.

Funnily enough, I kept running into the same woman at each bath, and we’d exchange awkward smiles at each other every time. It was like we were unspoken bath buddies. Eventually, she waited for me outside a bathhouse to ask for my number, and we became friends!

After my first solo trip to Japan, I learned that solo travel is the least lonely way to travel. Locals interact more often, you become easier to approach and sometimes you make it on television. Moral of the story: Travel! Whether you do it solo or with friends, it will be awesome.

Need some inspiration for your next solo trip? Check out https://travel.gaijinpot.com/ to discover your new getaway destination in Japan!

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