Legend has it that the waters of this rural onsen town burst forth from the chest of the Buddha of healing, so they have special curative properties, arguably greater than anywhere else in Japan. Modern science would argue that they actually come from deep geothermal springs and dispute their healing powers, but what’s for sure is that these baths make for a rejuvenating and relaxing dip.
You’ll need one to cure your aching legs after getting here, as this small town of traditional ryokan inns is tucked away in a valley among the mountains of Kumano. People have been bathing here for around 1800 years, and the town itself has a historic feel to it which is lost at some of the more major resorts elsewhere.
Most of the people who bathe here aren’t just doing it for relaxation’s sake though; Yunomine Onsen also has some deep spiritual associations. It lies on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, and in days gone by people decided to stop here to complete Shinto purification rituals before heading onwards to Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine.
The most significant bath here also happens to be the smallest, and goes by the name of Tsuboyu. It’s said that a historic general was cured of a terminal illness by bathing here, where the waters are said to change color seven times per day, and the story has since been popularized in kabuki theater. Because of its fame, Tsuboyu is the only hot spring in the world to have UNSECO World Heritage status.