Japan 2023: Day 15

Caves, storks, taiko and Eva slot machine gaming, crab sushi rice, the best beef again, unlimited drinks, and more hot spring hopping at Kinosaki Onsen.

After a rough computer night, I still woke up earlier than my body probably wanted at around 7:30 a.m., but my mind was stuck in its bad habits (or some other way around).

  • Steps taken: 18,575
  • Miles biked: 8.94
  • Money spent: 19,881円 | $147.12 USD

Table of Contents

Onsen hop, part 2

After planning my day in my futon, I hit up my second onsen out of seven in my yukata. This onsen had a set of baths outside in front of a lovely waterfall. I was glad to be here in the early morning when it wasn't crowded. Only two to three other women were with me, and I could peacefully meditate and enjoy the lovely scene and cool air over the hot waters.

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Street food and souvenir shopping

Refreshed, I went back out in my normal clothes to explore more of the town and try some street food. After last night's incredibly delicious Tajima beef, I was especially keen on trying street food with that in it. I had a Tajima beef  sujiman (stewed?) bun, Tajima beef steak skewer, and Tajima minced beef croquette. I was sad to realize that none of these foods tasted nearly as good as the grilled Tajima beef I had from the slightly patronizing ぼん chef last night. At least my body was nourished with calories to keep me going for a few hours...

As for wasting my money on non-food things, I found a Ghibli store! I bought a small Totoro towel (of course), but resisted getting more somehow.

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Unlimited drinks!

After all the food stuff, I still needed caffeine. I found a cute bookstore and cafe called Kinosaki-Un that was also selling raw buttercream dorayaki. While waiting in line to order, I noticed that the cafe had this deal where you could pay 1,000 yen for a 1-day unlimited drinks (+1 dorayaki) wristband, or 1,200 yen for 2 days. That seemed like a great deal to me. I got the 2-day pass with my first drink being a matcha latte, and the cashier's recommended dorayaki: a sweet adzuki buttercream dorayaki. Both were delicious, especially the dorayaki. I was surprised at how much I loved that dorayaki...

I loved how the cafe incorporated the bookstore concept. It categorized (Japanese) books you could borrow (within the cafe) into sections of estimated time to finish, e.g., 30 minutes, 1 hour, "forever". The idea is to encourage people to take their time sipping drinks while reading books. Given many of the customers are short-time visitors to the town, I am not sure how many of their clientele actually took advantage of the books – hopefully the locals do. But I would love to have that kind of concept spread at the cafes near my home.

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Onsen hop, part 3

I had five more onsen to go, so I had to squeeze in one more soak in between morning wanderings and lunch. This onsen had a bath that was so hot, I couldn't keep my body in it for more than a few seconds!

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A crabby lunch

It was close to 1:30 p.m. after changing from my last bath. A lot of restaurants were either full or finished accepting their last order for lunch. Thankfully I found a small, unassuming restaurant called すけ六・Sukeroku that was still open until 2:30 p.m. and took walk-ins. On Google folks raved about the kani-chirashi, or crab over sushi rice. Especially after a beefy morning, I was glad to change things up and try another specialty with crab. And yep, it was really good, filling, affordable at 1500円, and quick! It came with a lovely miso soup with what tasted like mochi.

Biking around the area

Fueled up again, I took advice from a friend and made my way to a bike rental shop. I found this PDF map of a couple of suggested cycling routes: there was one that supposedly took 2 hours, and another that took 3 hours. I decided to do the 2-hour one because it looked super cool with a few destinations, one in particular with some neat caves. For a 4-hour rental, I paid 1,480円 or $10.86 USD, a bit more than a quarter of what I paid at Lake Biwa. Shaking my fists...

When I became oriented with the map and my bike, I realized all the landmarks are actually incredibly close by, compared to the ones I went to in Lake Biwa. In total, taking my time and losing my way a little, I biked a little less than 9 miles. So the estimated two hours included stopping to rest and sight-see. I love that!

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Another floating shrine gate

The first stop was a picturesque view of a (seemingly) floating torii gate in the waters of Sasaura Bay, where the Buddhist goddess Benzaiten is said to be enshrined.

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Hanakake Jizou

Very close by was the next stop, a small temple to Hanakake Jizou, who was said to have been caught and deified by a poor fisherman when rice proceeded to fall from the jizou's nose. The fisherman greedily tried to widen the jizou's nose for more rice, but instead knocked the nose off so no more rice would come out!

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White Oriental Storks at Toshima Wetlands

Next  was this area called the Toshima Wetlands. At first it seemed like a large, peaceful, flat piece of land with a path along the edges to walk  and nothing else. As I was about to walk onto the path, I noticed a sign in Japanese that asked me to enter via the administrative building to the left. Cautiously I entered, unsure if anyone would even be inside – there were maybe 3 cars in the parking lot total, and no other bikes.

Inside, I saw a woman sitting at a desk who said konnichiwa to me, and an old man staring out a large window that faced the wetlands. I noticed some huge telescopes facing out the window and a lot of pamphlets lining the tables by the walls.  

I realized this place was running a conservation effort for the rare white oriental storks that live here. The storks became virtually extinct in 1971; in 2005 one was released (?) into the wild, and through great efforts their numbers are being restored.

The woman at the desk was the sole employee greeting folks who came in, showed them how to use the telescopes, and answered questions about the storks and wetlands. She spoke to me in Japanese about the storks and the telescopes, and I understood maybe 30% of what she said, haha. With the woman's help using one of the telescopes, I could indeed see a stork walking around the wetlands, which was pretty darn cool.

A wholesome language practice

A mother and little boy walked in, and the boy seemed really happy. I think they had just finished walking around the wetland path. The boy went to a donation box and put in 100 yen. The woman was happy and thanked them. The old man did similarly, and all the other guests eventually exited so it was just the staffwoman and me.

Eventually I also placed a donation in the box, so the woman thanked me and handed me a pamphlet in English, asking in Japanese if I would prefer an English pamphlet. I said, I am better at English (!) and thanked her for the pamphlet. She promptly apologized for talking so much to me in Japanese, but I told her I wanted to practice and there was no problem! and that I appreciated her helping me with the telescope, my bad Japanese, and running this project. We talked a little more, with her saying her English is awful, my Japanese is great (sure lol), and how thankful she was I visited from so far away. I am so glad I bravely stepped into this building to have had that small experience and to support this conservation effort. :) I asked her about the wetland path, and she told me it would take about 10-15 minutes to walk, but I should be considerate about not scaring the storks and staying along the perimeter.  

After thanking her one more time and saying goodbye, I spent a little time along the wetland path. I saw at least three storks flying around or walking along the land. I was happy to see them thriving and safe in this little haven, watched over by that kind woman in the small building.

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Genbudo Park

I was off to my last destination, which was "much" farther south than the cluster of landmarks from before. Until then, the bike ride had been quite easygoing and flat. But a couple of kilometers before my final destination, I had to climb a somewhat challenging hill! It wasn't as bad as Lake Biwa (ha), but lungs definitely noticed it.

Not long after, I made it to Genbudo Park, where five caves very close together were displayed where they were naturally formed over 1.6 million years from the effects of cooling volcanic lava. This was so cool, perhaps one of the coolest things I've seen on my trip or ever. I hadn't seen anything else like it.

Entrance to the park was a very modest 500円 or $3.70. If you wanted to rush it, you could walk the entire park in maybe 5 minutes. But how could you not sit at some of the caves and just lose yourself for awhile?

Beyond the caves themselves, I super appreciated the detailed, no-frills informational placards in Japanese as well as English that stood next to the caves as well as at the entrance of the park.

Across the street were a cafe, souvenir shop, and museum. It was getting a smidge close to sunset, and I didn't want to be riding in the dark, so I sadly opted out of the museum. I got myself a special white oriental stork talisman from the shop and headed back to town, hoping that one day I could come back to see the park again and enjoy the museum.

After scoring another drink with my drink pass at Kinosaki-Un just before it closed at 5 p.m., I got back to the rental shop at around 5:15 p.m. Heh, so even including my semi-restricted sight-seeing, my self-guided tour actually took about three hours instead of two. I loved how easygoing that route was, how it took me to places I would have never gone to or known they existed on my own, and how it encouraged travelers to visit, support, and appreciate these small local wonders.

Onsen recovery

Next step was naturally to knock out onsen number four. It felt especially refreshing after expending myself on that bike ride, and still recovering from the day before.

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Beef again...

And then, dinner.


I wanted to try one of the "nicer" restaurants, so I pressed my luck at this one I was eyeing called Terme. It is an Italian bar restaurant that serves the iconic beef and crab in pastas and other dishes. I entered right when it opened, and the one employee I saw working there told me I could eat if I finished within an hour. I agreed to the terms and was eager to order my food as soon as possible... But I had to wait a bit because apparently the menu is written for each day in a single notebook, and the one other set of customers was still reading it. I had never seen that setup before!

Once I got the menu myself, I settled on a Tajima beef tagliatele, which I assumed would be a balanced, filling pasta... but I was completely wrong. I instead received some cuts of beef (rare?) plated with some vegetables (broccolini?). Along with a glass of beer and the table service serving of sazae or turban shell sea snails, I was set back 3,600円. To be honest, I wasn't that impressed, and definitely not satiated. The beef was beautifully presented but tasted a little rough and maybe too salty. The sazae was like a little penis that was a pain to get out of its beautiful shell, and meh I wasn't keen on the taste.

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Back to Bon

After that experience, I did something I almost never do when traveling: I went to the same restaurant twice! And I ordered the same thing twice! Yes, I went back to Bon where I ate yesterday on Day 14, even though the chef annoyed me, because I just loved that man's beef! I had this Tajima beef at so many places already in Kinosaki Onsen, and all them sucked except at this specific man's place. That man's beef was life-changing.

So yes, I ordered that damn Tajima yakiniku again. The chef recommended I also get rice, and I said sure whatever. He also added a small bowl of crab and honey soup. Everything here in this much dingier restaurant was so many leagues better and cheaper, and delivered faster, despite having more customers to serve at once (!), than that fancy ass Terme. My total here was 2940 yen; even if I got a beer, it would've still been cheaper than Terme.

If I knew I was having my last meal, this would be a contender.

The chef was very happy to see me again. 「また、こんばんは!」"Good evening, again!" I said when I entered.「お久しぶりー!」"It's been a long time!" he said. When it was time for me to pay, once again he just told me the total in Japanese, once again I missedonly  the hundreds number, once again he said that number loudly in English, and once again I got annoyed. But he was otherwise a jovial older man serving me some of the best food I've ever had and trying to help me, so I took it in stride.

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Wandering in the night

After that second and much more satisfying dinner, I lazily began wandering back to my ryokan, allowing myself to get distracted by the wholesome nightlife of this small onsen town.

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More shopping

A few souvenir shops were still open. I picked up a wooden sake cup that said Kinosaki, along with a couple more towels.

Fun with games

On the way back was an arcade shop filled with raucous laughter. I stepped inside – the atmosphere was so fun and bright in the dark night of this rural town. A bunch of young men were playing with this test-your-strength boxing glove game, a couple of folks were playing an air hockey game, and others were playing various solo or two-person arcade box games. I was intrigued by this Evangelion slot machine. It was only 100円 to try, so I went for it. It was very bizarre, but I was surprised at how many credits I was given and how long I could play for just 100円.

At some point, the taiko drumming rhythm game opened up, which I remembered loving as a study abroad student. I had to relearn the controls of hitting the sides and the middle, but had a blast for 200円.

Outside the arcade, I passed by a couple of stations where folks were shotting toy gun bullets at these very odd targets on the wall....

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And then I thought, what if I get myself cold with ice cream so that I'd need to heat up again with another onsen hop? This made perfect sense to me.

Twice in the same day, not counting my unlimited-drinks cafe, I visited a place I visited before: my late-night dessert place from Day 14, Soft Serve Kobo. The ice cream I got was yummy.

white peach レアーチーズケーキ (rare cheesecake) ice cream with sakura button (a cherry)

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Pre-bedtime soak

Extra chilled from the ice cream and cool evening, I changed into my yukata, skipped the geta in favor of my regular shoes, and hit up my fifth of seven onsen. It was the onsen closest to my ryokan, which was convenient at night, and important since that one would not be open tomorrow before my train back to Kyoto would leave. This one had a large indoor bath along with a couple of very small outdoor bath tubs – only 1-2 people could fit in each tub, and if you went as a couple, it would be an intimately close fit, so not good for strangers. But all the ladies were pretty considerate with each other in terms of not spending too much time in the tubs so we could rotate and share.

All in all, a fun full day!

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