There’s no better way to relax on weekends than to spend the day in the onsen (hot springs). So-called “day-trip” or “daytime-use” onsen (higaeri onsen日帰り温泉 ) is a much cheaper alternative than overnight-stay onsen, though the latter has its own charms. Most onsen offer both types of arrangements.
One of Kyoto’s landmark hotsprings, Kurama Onsen, has a day-trip course where adults pay 2500 yen and children pay 1600 to dip in its famous open-air bath Houroku-Yu as well as three kinds of indoor baths (including standard, bubble, and sauna). Face towels, bath towels and yukatas are provided by the onsen. Onsen not only relaxes; it whets the appetite. The restaurant on the first floor provides an array of dishes, set menu or à la carte, with choices ranging from freshwater fish such as sweetfish (grilled)—good this time of the year—to chicken rice with mountain vegetables to boiled tofu to wild boar hotpot to kaiseiki meals.
A newer model of the day-trip onsen is the Tenzan no Yu Sagano Onsen near Arashiyama. Drawing its sodium- and calcium-chloride-rich waters from the Kyoto Basin, Tenzan no Yu boasts of having a high concentration of chlorine ion unusual for a hot spring located far away from the sea. This gives the onsen its medicinal value, while also making it a natural spa, since the minerals have an emulsifying effect on the skin.
There are different kinds of baths at the Tenzan no Yu. Near the entrance to the main baths are a footbath and a ceramic bath, the latter consisting of a shallow pool of heated multicolored ceramic balls into which one immerses one’s feet.
Inside the main bath areas reserved for male or female use, there is a bewildering variety of baths to choose from. For women bathers, there are two outdoor baths named after the Golden and Silver Pavilions, plus two tsubo tubs (which can accommodate two people) made of Mino pottery and equipped with infrared lighting, and a shallow, half-body (utata) bath where people can lie on their backs on stone pillows.
Indoors, for women, there are two Taketori Hot Pot tubs (one with lukewarm water, called Fukan Hot Water Pot, and the other a foam bath), one cold-water bath, one large bathtub with a whirlpool in a corner, a smaller bath with plenty of nanobubbles to make the skin silky, and rock and salt saunas. Men enjoy the Theater-style aroma sauna, constructed out of Japanese cypress, and the sitting bath.
The price of entry is 1,050 yen for adults (500 yen for kids age 4 and up to elementary school level), and adults can either bring their own towel and room wear or else rent towel (200 yen) or towel and room-wear set (350 yen). Clients wear a barcode tag that they can use to charge food and other services to their accounts, which are settled when they check out of the onsen.
The Dining restaurant (that’s what it’s called) has an extensive menu that offers everything from noodles to donburi (rice topping) to set menu (served with rice, pickles and miso soup) to sushi and the full-course kaiseki.
For the children, there are fruit and milk ices (kakigouri), waffles, and pizzas. There is also the added attraction of free Nintendo games for two hours (500 yen/hour from the third hour onward) and a small game arcade.
For adults, there are massage chairs, reclining chairs for reading and watching TV, spa treatments (including something called “Korean rug” ), and a tatami-mat room where one can actually take catnaps.
The concept behind Tenzan no Yu is to encourage families, friends, and couples to spend a day of utter indulgence, taking the medicinal waters, eating and drinking between meals, availing themselves of a number of spa treatments, or just reading and resting and talking and playing. At the end of the day, one goes home to sleep comfortably in one’s bed, the good night’s sleep aided in large part by the relaxing effects of the onsen and the day spent in the company of loved ones.