Experience what an old-fashioned onsen town is like with the World Heritage listed Yunotsu Onsen in Shimane Prefecture.
Japan is home to many onsen towns where visitors can experience the country’s culture of hot spring baths. But few of these towns let you see what they would have once looked like, which is what makes the old-fashioned town of Yunotsu Onsen in Shimane Prefecture so special.
Although Yunotsu Onsen is not especially well-known among international travellers, those who visit are in for a real treat with this charming destination. Here is everything you need to know about visiting Yunotsu Onsen with your Japan Rail Pass.
Brief Background to Yunotsu
To understand why Yunotsu is worth visiting, it helps to know a little about the town’s history. Yunotsu is found on the coast of Honshu, due north of Hiroshima, and has the feel of a gentle fishing village. However, this humble town of just a few thousand people actually has a substantial history to it, as Yunotsu has two major claims to fame.
The first is that Yunotsu has been known for its thermal springs and onsen baths for the past 1,300 years. As far back as the Edo Period, Yunotsu was a popular destination for Japanese people to come and relax in its healing mineral waters. While that’s impressive on its own, what makes Yunotsu special compared to other onsen towns is that it has retained its look from the early 20th century.
Secondly, in 2007 Yunotsu was inducted onto the World Heritage List as part of the Iwami Ginzan World Heritage Site, making it another of Japan’s World Heritage sites to visit. The town was recognized along with the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine as one of the main ports that shipped the mine’s silver.
What to Do in Yunotsu Onsen Town
Even though Yunotsu is not a large town, there’s certainly a nice range of things to do there to keep you entertained.
Walk along the Main Street
Since Yunotsu Onsen town is not very large, it doesn’t take too long to explore on foot. In fact, the town really only has one main street, on which you’ll find all of its sights. Walking down the main street lined with merchant houses, shrines and inns, visitors will be able to get a real sense of this authentic town and its old-fashioned ways.
Visit an Onsen
Perhaps the most obvious thing to do in Yunotsu is to spend your time there at one of its onsen. Yunotsu is home to a range of onsen, many of which are connected to traditional inns known as ryokan. However, the town also features two public bathhouses commonly used by locals that you may want to try out. The two baths are the Yakushiyu Public Bath and Motoyu Public Bath, both of which are separated by gender. Because of the different mineral content of the town’s springs, many travelers try to sample several baths during their visit.
Stay in a Ryokan
Ryokan are not only a place to experience the customs of traditional Japanese baths, they also allow international guests to experience old-fashioned Japanese living and hospitality. Staying at a ryokan, travelers will get to sleep on tatami mats and try customary Japanese meals.
See an Iwami Kagura performance
Those who stay in Yunotsu over the weekend are in luck, as Saturday nights offer a break from the usually quiet evenings with a show of the local performance art known as Iwami Kagura. Held at one of the town’s shrines, Iwami Kagura is a form of masked dance-theater that recounts local stories and legends through carefully choreographed dances that are accompanied by live music. As this is a regional custom, Yunotsu is one of the best places to experience this fascinating art form.
Visiting Yunotsu with the JR Pass
While it’s a bit of a journey to reach the town of Yunotsu Onsen from popular Japanese destinations, it’s certainly possible to travel there using your JR Pass.
To reach the onsen town from Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line to Shin-Yamaguchi Station. From there, take the San-In line direct to Yunotsu Station, or connect through Masuda Station. The centre of town is roughly 15 minutes walk from the station, although there is also a local bus.