Many of you may have heard of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. If you haven’t, it is one of the most popular ancient Buddhist pilgrimage trails across the entirety of Japan, consisting of a massive network of trails that take you across the sacred areas of the Kii Peninsula.
Whilst the ancient coastal trails have long disappeared, there are plenty of mountainous trails still to conquer, and part of the trail leads us through and to Yunomine Onsen. These trails tend to take 1-2, or somethings 3 days to complete, depending on how vigorous you want to hike them.
The quaint, humble town of Yunomine Onsen is the world’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site that is a hot spring, and is located along the ‘Nakahechi’ trail, close to Hongu. It’s home to a tiny secluded collection of ryokans that are built in the mountains of Kumano, and has been claimed to have been discovered more than 1800 years ago, making it one of the oldest hot springs across Japan.
Whilst many other onsens will offer unmissable and memorable experiences, there is something quite majestic about this tiny town that we can’t quite put our finger on, but it’s got that special something the larger towns seem to be missing. It’s one strip of onsen goodness that appeals to those after a bathing experience far, far away from civilization.
How to get to Yunomine Onsen
As it is located in quiet a secluded area, you must first travel to a more populated, closer-by neighbourhood before venturing to Yunomine Onsen.
Firstly, if you are on the Kumano Kodo Trail, you will most likely be heading into Yunomine Onsen from Hongu Taishia. From there, there are obvious buses which will depart for Yunomine Onsen, which will take only 10-minutes to arrive. Check this link for bus timetables.
Otherwise, from Tokyo, there are a few options
- Take the Shinkansen to Nagoya Station (around 100-minutes, 10,360 yen), and then switch trains to the Wide View Nanki to Shingu Station (3.5 hours, 6,870 yen). This train trip is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. From Shingu station, take the Kumano Kotsu Bus to Yunomine Onsen.
- Take the highway bus from Shinjuku to Shingu Station (9.5 hours, 10,000 yen). From there, take the Kumano Kotsu Bus to Yunomine Onsen.
Where to Stay in Yunomine Onsen
As one of the leading ryokans in Hongu, you can bet that this ryokan is a great option for those looking to go off the beaten for a day or two of peace and quiet. Ryokan Adumaya looks as though it’s been lifted straight out of a historic Japanese film; its construction is reminiscent of ancient traditional Japanese inns, made of dark timber, wooden pillars, and finished with paper lanterns. A gorgeous Japanese breakfast is served to guests every morning, and the ryokan offers some stunning onsen choices.
Why Guests Love It: Many guests chose to stay here as part of their Kumano Kodo hike, and none have regretted it so far. It’s very traditional but ticks all the right boxes. It has an ‘old world’ feel that can’t quite be replicated. The staff went out of their way multiple times to ensure that the guests’ stay was comfortable and well-tended to.
Book It Now: Ryokan Adumaya
Set right on the mountain overlooking the river, this gorgeous ryokan is a historic accommodation that’s popular amongst those on the Kumano pilgrimage. It’s a more up-market choice, as, whilst it still retains the traditional Japanese look and feel, many aspects of this ryokan cater towards the western audience, with such things as the option to choose from traditional Japanese-style bedding or more modern rooms with Western-style beds.
In saying that, all rooms come with air-con, a flat-screen TV, and free bathroom amenities. Some of the guest rooms also offer a luxurious private open-air onsen. As for the public onsens, there are a few to choose from, as well as a private on that can be reserved. On top of that, Kawayu Onsen Fujiya has also constructed a bath on top of the river bunk nearby in front of the property for guests to make use of as well. This is a very unique offering, and one you won’t find at many other ryokans.
Why Guests Love It: If you’re a fan of bird watching, this ryokan is located in a great area to make use of the silence and relax in an amazing atmosphere. Guests who made use of the public as well as the private onsen say that they’re both equally stunning and fantastic, not to be missed. The crème de la crème though, has got to be the view of the river from all areas of this ryokan – breathtaking. The Japanese-style breakfast is also a delight!
Book It Now: Kawayu Onsen Fujiya
Yunomine Onsen – Tsuboyu Onsen
This century-old onsen is the crown jewel of Yunomine Onsen. It’s said to be dated all the way back to the 12th century, making it one of the oldest baths in all of Japan. It’s situated in a small cabin on top of the creek that flows through Yunomine Onsen, and from its exterior all the way inside, there is this old-world vibe you can’t shake, making this onsen more special than the norm.
Historically, it’s believed that the water here is extremely potent and has many health effects on the body. Hangan Oguri, a famous historical figure who was the son of a provincial lord, was said to have restored his health by bathing in these waters. It is also believed that the water changes color seven times a day here.
The process in order to bath here is that you need to purchase a ticket from the vending machine nearby. From there, you can exchange the ticket for a number at the nearby counter, and wait until it is your turn. There is only a maximum of 1-2 people allowed in at a time, so this is a great activity for couples or solo travelers. Once you get inside, place your clothes in a basket, rinse your body, and then enter the hot spring for some rest and relaxation. If it becomes too hot, turn on the tap for some cold water and mix the water with the stir tool provided. Every visitor is only allowed 30-minutes.
- Address: Japan, 〒647-1732 Wakayama, Tanabe, Hongucho Hongu
- Access: It is 1-minute from the bus stop.
- Hours: 6:00am – 9:00pm
- Price: 770 yen
Yunomine Onsen – Cook “Mushi Jigoku Ryori” in the River (“Steamed Hell Cuisine”)
Have you ever heard of the Japanese cooking vegetables and other ingredients using the hot, hot steam from onsens? Well, you can experience this in person in Yunomine Onsen! Here, it is a popular activity to purchase some raw eggs and vegetables (which come with a net and rope) at the small local stores near the river. After that, head to the Yuzutsu, the square ‘hell’ pit in the middle of the village. Tie all their ingredients inside the net and sling them into the hole, tied to a plank on a side, letting the food sink below the surface of the water.
Most people wait around for their food to be cooked (12-15 minutes), others walk around and go for a dip in the water or explore the street on food whilst they wait. Either way, when time’s up, simply lift your bag out of the water and you’re done!
Access: It is in the centre of the village.
Yunomine Onsen – Wataze Onsen
To further discover more of the onsen culture in this area, why not venture to Wataze Onsen as well? A visit to the largest rotenburo in western Japan might make you the envy subject of your friends back at home, don’t you think? This stunning hot spring is surrounded by picturesque mountains and greenery, and the only sound you’ll hear is the song of the birds – the perfect way to start or end your day. Here, you can also rent private rotenburos if you’d like. The crowd here is mostly domestic visitors so you’ll feel worlds away from the crowd-dense city life of Tokyo and Osaka here. The rotenburo is accessible by staying guests as well as day-trippers.
- Address: 45-1 Hongucho Wataze, Tanabe, Wakayama 647-1733, Japan
- Hours: 6:00am – 10:00pm
- Cost: 700 yen
- Overnight Stay: Watarase Onsen Hotel Yamayuri
Yunomine Onsen – Kumano Hongu Taisha (Oyunohara)
Of course, most people visiting Yunomine Onsen would be coming from Kumano Hongu Taisha, however, some people might not be. If this is the case, we highly recommend taking the 10-minute bus ride out to visit this grand temple located deep in a dense cedarwood forest. Kumano Hongu Taisha is one of the three sacred shrines of Kumano, and it’s the one that’s closest to Yunomine Onsen.
To actually get to the shrine, trekkers must climb a set of stone stairs to the sanctuary. This path has been hiked by millions of pilgrims, since ancient times. Even as a day visitor, you can feel the mystery in the air as you ascend the steps. Kumano Hongu Taisha quite a special spot on the pilgrimage trail, as it marks the centre of all the routes of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage. Today, it is one of the most popular destinations for Japanese people during New Years Eve, as it is a special place to pray for year full of luck ahead.
- Address: 1110 Hongucho Hongu, Tanabe, Wakayama 647-1731, Japan
- Hours: 6:00am – 5:00pm
Dorokyo Gorge Jet Boating
How many times can you say you’ve visited a UNESCO World Heritage site, climbed up steps to one of the sacred shrines of Kumano, bathed in one of the oldest onsen towns in Japan, and managed to squeeze in a jet boat ride, all in the same trip?
Well, it seems like you’re in luck because if you’re staying in Yunomine Onsen, the Dorokyo Gorge Jet Boating activity is literally only 30-minutes away! This activity exposes you to the beautiful rock formations along the Kumano River, is incredibly popular amongst the locals for its pure, untouched beauty, and fun exciting way to experiencing it – i.e. via a fast-paced jetboat zipping through the river. To make it even more exciting, some parts of the river are only inches deep…imaging cruising along that!
- Address: 272 Kumanogawacho Hitari, Shingu, Wakayama 647-1211, Japan
- Access: From Hongu or Shingu Station, there are plenty of buses that you can take towards Shiko, which is where the activity is located.
- Hours: 9:30 – 2:30
- Cost: Adult: 3,500 yen for a 2-hour trip, Child: 2,300 yen
- Website: http://www.kumakou.co.jp/dorokyo/
Yunomine Onsen is a wonderful respite away from distracting world of skyscrapers, neon city lights, and large, loud crowds. It attracts only those who are willing and keen to trek a bit further inland for some seclusion, and seclusion is what they’ll get. Whilst you may feel worlds away from other people in this town, it’s still close enough that traveling to and from isn’t quite the chore that you’d expect it to be. It’s a little gem of a town, offering lots of various little activities to pass time and places to do get the right amount of rest you need from your trekking, or from exploring the hustle and bustle of Japan’s exciting fast-paced cities.
By the way, while you are in Yunomine, make sure to also visit the wonderful Nachi Falls, you won’t regret! 😉
PS: If you want to discover more hot spring towns in Japan, make sure you check out these articles: Best Onsen Towns Japan.