Lying in the southern central region of Japan’s main island Honshu, the Kansai Region (関西) is renowned for its rich cultural heritage since ancient times. Main cities in this old political and cultural centre of Japan include Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe. As the hub of the Kansai region, Osaka is a good base for you to explore the other cities for their interesting history and culture. When booking your accommodations for a holiday in the region, besides the usual hotels and guest houses, you should consider staying in an open-air onsen ryokan for a uniquely Japan experience.
As a country with active volcanoes, there are more than 3,000 onsen areas, or hot spring areas in Japan. Since ancient times, the Japanese have enjoyed the medicinal benefits of bathing in the mineral-rich onsens. Instead of spending only a few hours visiting a hot spring resort, staying in an exquisite open-air onsen ryokan will allow you to have a more relaxing experience in the bath. Traditional Japanese-style inns are not as expensive as you think and you will be able to find some wonderfully affordable onsen ryokans for a great stay. Read this article for the top 5 affordable open-air onsen ryokans to stay within three hours from Osaka!
Open-air onsen ryokans in and around Kyoto Prefecture
Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is famously known for its traditional architecture including imperial palaces, temples and shrines, and wooden houses. 21% of the prefecture is covered by beautiful natural parks. It is thus not surprising that Kyoto remains one of the top favourite destinations for both local and foreign tourists.
From Osaka Station, Kyoto Station is a quick and easy JR direct special rapid train ride about 30 minutes away (560 JPY, 4.80 USD). Even if you take a ride on the local train or rapid train that will stop at a few stations along the way, it will take only 45 minutes or 40 minutes respectively, at the same price as the special rapid train. From Kyoto, you will find many cool open-air onsen ryokans that you can choose from for a memorable stay. Discover 3 wallet-friendly open-air onsen ryokans in the prefecture in this section.
1. Syoenso Hozukawatei at Yunohana Onsen
Located at Yunohana Onsen hot spring resort in Kameoka, Syoenso Hozeukawatei is a tastefully furnished onsen ryokan surrounded by beautiful natural landscape. It is a short 20-minute train ride to JR Kameoka Station from JR Kyoto Station, and you can book the 15-minute shuttle service with the ryokan prior to arrival. There are large public baths as well as open-air baths on premise available for guests’ use between 6am and 8am, and 4pm and 10pm daily. If you prefer, you can also choose to stay in a Japanese-style room with a private open-air bath.
In between relaxing onsen time, enjoy a refreshing stroll in the tranquil garden, pamper yourself with a soothing massage, or have some traditional Japanese sake at the contemporary Japanese bar (izayaka). There are also scrumptious kaiseki cuisine to look forward to for both breakfast and dinner. Savour a traditional Japanese cuisine made with fresh local seasonal ingredients such as Tamba pine mushrooms and pork meat.
Syoenso Hozeukawatei (松園荘保津川亭)
Address: 1-4 Ashinoyama Nagareda, Hiedano-cho, Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture
Price: from 105.20 USD per night per person
Access: 15-minute taxi ride from JR Kameoka Station. Shuttle service can be arranged with ryokan prior to arrival.
Contact: +81 77-122-0903
2. Biwako Hanakaido at Ogoto Onsen
Biwako Hanakaido is located on the western banks of Japan’s largest freshwater lake - Lake Biwa in the popular Ogoto Onsen area, about half an hour away from Kyoto. Water from the Ogoto Onsen is highly alkaline at a pH level of 9.0 and most known for its skin beautifying benefits. Besides, the water is believed to relieve ailments such as neuralgia, muscular and joint pain, stiff shoulders, and fatigue. Set atop the hill, all rooms boast gorgeous views of Lake Biwa. Relax and enjoy the pure spring waters in the two large indoor baths and outdoor baths. Feast on traditional kaiseki-ryori cuisine using local Omi beef specialty and other fresh seasonal ingredients.
Biwako Hanakaido (びわ湖花街道)
Address: 1-3 1-Chome, Ogoto, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture
Price: from 141 USD per night per person
Access: 20-minute train ride from JR Kyoto Station to Ogoto Onsen Station on Kosei Line. Thereafter it is a 5-minute taxi ride to the ryokan.
Contact: +81 77-578-1075
3. Arashiyama Onsen Saishiki no Yado Hanaikada
Arashiyama is one of the most famous sightseeing spots within Kyoto, which prospered in ancient times as a holiday resort area for aristocrats. Designated as a National Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty, staying in an exquisite onsen ryokan like Hanaikada in Arashiyama will allow you to unwind from the hectic city life. Located nearby the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge, Hanaikada boasts the only gender-segregated open-air bath in Arashiyama offering a fabulous view of the town. There is also a private open-air bath with a lovely view of the bridge, as well as two other indoor cypress baths to relax in.
Meal times on premise are mouth-watering affairs to look forward to, included in your onsen ryokan stay. For breakfast, tuck into a hearty meal with a choice of your preferred fish. Dinner is traditional Kyoto kaiseki cuisine with fresh seasonal dishes. For lunch, you can tuck into a nutritious and yummy Yudofu course consisting of Arashiyama tofu warmed up in soy milk, in a bonito-based soup with your favourite condiments at additional charges. In between your dining and onsen indulgence, explore lovely Kyoto tourist spots like the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tenryu-ji Temple, Saga bamboo groves and Togetsukyo Bridge, all within a 15-minute walk from the ryokan.
Arashiyama Onsen Saishiki no Yado Hanaikada (嵐山温泉彩四季の宿花筏)
Address: 57 Arashiyamanakaoshita-cho, Nishigyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
Price: from 150 USD per night per person
Access: 20-minute train ride from JR Kyoto Station to JR Saga-Arashimaya Station on San’in Line. Thereafter it is a 5-minute complimentary shuttle service to the ryokan.
Contact: +81 75-861-0228
Open-air onsen ryokans in Hyogo Prefecture
Hyogo Prefecture is situated to the west of Osaka and Kyoto with Kobe as the prefectural capital. The prefecture stretches from the Seto Inland Sea to the Sea of Japan, boasting a number of noteworthy hot spring resorts such as Kinosaki Onsen, Shiota Onsen and Arima Onsen. These splendid onsen resorts are less than three hours’ train ride from Osaka, making them a convenient place for a hot spring retreat. In this section, I will recommend 2 open-air onsen ryokans that do not burn a big hole in your wallet in Hyogo Prefecture.
4. Onishiya Suishoen at Kinosaki Onsen
Reputable as one of the best onsen destinations in the Kansai region, Kinosaki Onsen is a charming hot spring town built along a willow-lined river in northern Hyogo Prefecture. A 2.5-hour Limited Express Hamakaze or Limited Express Kounotori train ride from Osaka or Shin-Osaka Station will bring you to this wonderful onsen resort which has been enjoyed since the 8th century. Onishiya Suisyouen is a contemporary Japanese-style inn that you can enjoy a comfortable stay by the Maruyama River in this pleasant town. Its hot spring water is rich in sodium and calcium chloride, said to relieve muscular pain, bruise, chronic digestive disorder and piles.
Wake up for a rejuvenating soak in the therapeutic open-air bath, open between 5.30am and 9.30am every morning surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers offering great seasonal views. After that, tuck into a healthy local breakfast of tofu and fugu cuisine. Between your next relaxing onsen time in the ryokan, head out for a stroll through the lovely pedestrian-friendly streets of Kinosaki in traditional Japanese yukata provided by the ryokan. Hop between the town’s famous seven public hot springs like the Jizou-yu and Ichino-yu located just within a 15-minute walk away. From 2.30pm to midnight, the ryokan’s open-air bath is open again for use. Return for another relaxing soak before you savour a sumptuous dinner with fresh Matsuba crab which is included in your stay in the inn.
Address: 1256 Momoshima, Kinosaki-cho, Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture
Price: from 137 USD per night per person
Access: 2.5-hour train ride from JR Osaka Station to JR Kinosaki Onsen Station. Thereafter it is a complimentary shuttle bus ride to the ryokan.
Contact: +81 79-632-4571
5. Ueyama Ryokan at Shiota Onsen
Ueyama Ryokan is a traditional ryokan that has been established since 1874, with its hot spring water originating from Shiota Onsen located by the rustic Yumesaki River. There are two large public baths, as well as two open-air baths nestled in the woods for a relaxing soak. In addition, you will find a traditional Japanese garden filled with lush greenery to enjoy a pleasant stroll on premise. Enjoy the beautiful seasonal views in the lush garden. There is also a Buddhist temple within the ryokan where you can seek some spiritual solace. As with all other onsen ryokans, you can enjoy traditional kaiseki cuisine included in your stay at Ueyama Ryokan. The ryokan is also nearby Japan’s most spectacular castle - Himeji Castle (姫路城), so make time to visit this must-see tourist spot in between your invigorating onsen time!
Ueyama Ryokan (上山旅館)
Address: 287 Yumesaki-cho, Shiota, Himeji-city, Hyogo Prefecture
Price: from 148 USD per night per person
Access: 30-minute train ride from Shin-Osaka Station to Himeji Station. Thereafter it is a 35-minute bus ride to the ryokan. Or book a complimentary shuttle service (available from 3.30pm at Himeji Station) prior to arrival at the ryokan.
Contact: +81 79-336-0020
An affordable yet luxurious holiday
Instead of staying in a typical hotel or guest house when travelling in the Kansai region, book a one-of-a-kind stay in one of the above-mentioned onsen ryokans for superb holiday memories. Besides being able to enjoy the warmth of Japanese hospitality, you will also be able to seek respite and unwind from the hectic city life in the relaxing open-air onsen with great views. The above-mentioned open-air onsen ryokans are affordable yet offer an indulging experience. Go ahead to pamper yourself in these therapeutic onsen ryokans for a luxurious holiday now!