Arima is in fact, the oldest spa town in Japan, just over the ripe old age of 1,000 years old. It rose to fame 10 centuries ago from a rumor that three injured crows were cured after drinking out of a hot spring in the vicinity. Ever since that time, people have been going there to cure their various ailments, or to just plain relax. Even in the 5th century, the place was popular. One emperor is said to have even bathed for a total of 86 days straight in Arima. It seems he just couldn’t leave. But who could blame him?
Another story claims that a monk was digging a pond in Arima and met a person who was suffering from illness. The person asked if the monk could take him to Arima because he had heard of its magical curing qualities. The monk obliged and then to his own amazement, saw the person turn into a golden Buddha and ride a cloud off into the east. I guess it proves the point that soaking in a hot tub really is heavenly after all.
Of course, in addition to relaxation, going to Arima is also beneficial for your health. Arima’s waters contain a lot of naturally occurring substances, including hydrogen-carbonate, chloride, sulfate, radon, and sulfur. The most famous is the “kinsen” (ferruginous sodium-chloride bath), commonly known as the “golden bath.” Soaking in the “kinsen” can relieve back problems, muscle pain, and skin infections. It also keeps the skin moisturized and protected from harmful environmental toxins by leaving a thin film of salt over it.
Another famous hot spring you’ll hear about in Arima is the “ginsen,” otherwise known as the “silver bath.” This bath apparently does wonders for circulation and improving the appetite. It’s great for when you are recovering from the stomach flu. There are two kinds of “ginsen” baths. One contains radon. By breathing in the radon-infused steam coming off the bath, you can treat joint problems and increase circulation.
When arriving in Arima, you have a choice between public baths (which cost anywhere from five-hundred to 1,500 yen) or hotel baths, which offer rotenburo-style bathing, where you can bathe outside in the open air. Admission to hotel baths is a bit pricier, ranging from 2,000 yen to 5,000 yen. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the higher price includes a course lunch, usually a beautifully prepared Japanese meal made from local ingredients.
From my own experience, the best priced option seems to be a day ticket to Arima Grand Hotel, which costs a reasonable 3,500 yen and includes access to a variety of baths and lunch, from which you can choose a French, Japanese or Chinese-style course. However, this special is only available on weekdays. If you choose to go on a weekend, the price shoots up to 6,000 yen.
If you’re itching to blow some money, head to Tosen Goshobou, where you can enjoy a Kobe beef “kaiseki ryori” course and bathing from around 10,000 yen. They also offer an artfully prepared Japanese course lunch from around 3,000 yen to 4,700 yen. The course is delicious, healthy, and is followed with rice ice cream and a rare soba-tea. Don’t forget to try the local “tansan sembei,” crackers made with Arima’s natural spring water or Arima cider, Japan’s first carbonated drink.
You can get to Arima one of two ways. From Osaka station, you can take a bus (terminal is near Hankyu Station), which takes an hour and costs 1,330 yen one way. Traffic jams, however, are unpredictable. You can also take the train from Osaka to Sannomiya (JR or Hankyu line) and then take the subway to Tanigami station, where you will change to the Arima Line. Take this train to Arimaguchi station and transfer to a local line, which will then lead you to your destination at Arima Onsen station (total cost around 1,400 yen from Osaka station).
So what are you waiting for? Get on a train or bus and get to Japan’s oldest spa as soon as you can because heavenly Arima is waiting for you!