Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kobe - Arima Onsen Hotel Kinzan 欽山

It was ominous the day we arrived.  The freak typhoon that would claim 4 lives in Japan this spring was upon us.  Ok, great.  No Mount Rokko, no sightseeing.  I was thinking - this was the divine intervention forcing me to relax.  Stuck in a ryokan, there is nothing to do except soak in the onsen, eat like an emperor, watch the rain pelt down on the bamboo garden. Very Zen....

Bento Lunch
All this internalizing while I eat my humble bento box lunch.  I was expecting a plastic boxed lunch to go.  I was happy to be wrong.  Promising start already.

Fresh brew of green tea and sweets of red bean jello and soda crackers
As we settle into our room, and discovering the unexpected joy of wi-fi in a ryokan (albeit an unsteady signal), tea is served.  This is the life.  Fresh cuppa with Japanese traditional sweets of a red bean jello and soda crackers (Tansan Senbei) made with water from the region that is high is carbon dioxide.  It's probably more accurate to refer to them as wafers given their texture.  Quite addictive, they now add a variety of flavor offerings, including ginger, sesame and seaweed.  It's also become more international with brands like Kobe's Fugetsudo offering chocolate, strawberry and vanilla also.  All this while the aroma of tea leaves seethe over the heat of tea lights, giving off a scent that's pleasantly soothing and not at all intrusive.

Source of the Carbonated Water
The Arima onsen town isn't big and you can just about cover the essentials in a matter of the better part of a day.  But like all onsen towns, and Arima is the oldest of them all, they are pretty in a traditional Japanese sort of way and it's great to soak in the relaxed atmosphere of old businesses still plying the trade in the same shop their families have been in for generations, from making soda wafers to making pickles or other foodie goodies.

Temple in Arima onsen town
Of course, if you like temples, every town has at least one significant one where you can clap your hands and say a prayer or catch a sip of holy water, all for good luck.

View of hotel's bamboo and koi garden
But mostly, we like the sanctuary of the ryokan and of course soaking in its onsen (hot spring) where clear and "rust" colored waters have their respective healing properties.  It's just relaxing to soak before a big meal.  Might be psychological or I'm just plain greedy but I swear that a 10 minute soak does wonders in opening up the appetite.

Dining in a ryokan is almost always Kaiseki style, a traditionally multi-course dinner in Japan, and designed to balance the body's various nutritional needs.  The Kaiseki way of dining is likely originally from Kyoto, since that is the old capital.  Kinzan's solitary Michelin star does not let it down and the food is impeccable and extremely low in oil and salt, allowing the natural flavors of the fresh local produce to come through.

And of course, presentation is plain pretty.

Agedashi bamboo in a shrimp and sea cucumber broth
And innovative combinations so simple yet so flavorful.  This dish of a lightly battered Agedashi bamboo (seasonal) in a shrimp and sea cucumber broth is naturally sweet that I could not help but lick the bowl clean.  Good thing we dine in the privacy of our own room.

Assorted Pickles with rice
Even the pickles are of the highest quality with a focus on preserving taste rather than just killing the vegetable with an overdose of salt.

Since we were staying 2 nights, we chose a different menu for the second night.  And since we were in the Kobe area, it would be wrong to leave without having the city's world renowned beef.

Sliced Kobe beef for Sukiyaki
So we were treated to a Kaiseki meal focusing on beef sukiyaki the second night.  And this has to be one of the best beef experiences my entire life.  So marbled, so soft, so tender, yet so full of beefy flavor.  The way beef was meant to be eaten.

The biggest difference between a resort and a ryokan is the latter's focus on meals and the set times at which meals must be served.  One cannot just show up and eat.  There is a preparation process which entails precise time keeping.  So there is a set time for tea, dinner and of course breakfast.

A full-on traditional Japanese breakfast
But if this is what you can get to tuck into every morning, the regimen isn't so bad.  So if you can endure disciplined relaxation with perfect Japanese hospitality, check into a ryokan and your tired body may be forever grateful.

1302-4 Arima-cho, Kita-ku, Kobe, 
Hyogo 651-1401
Tel: +81-78-904-0701


  1. The garden looks amazing! I haven't been to any onsen towns outside of Hokkaido yet. We have Noboribetsu in Hokkaido but I think this one you went to looks much better.

  2. Hi Ben
    thanks for dropping by! I would definitely want to try Hokkaido soon. I've been to onsen towns a fair bit now and love them. Each town is different especially in cuisines. Arima is not the prettiest, but it is the oldest, and the ryokan was lovely.