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Hotel Urashima Resort and Spa in Kii-Katsuura for cave onsens and a beautiful sunrise over the Pacific

19 November 2016 

After walking the Daimon-zaka steps to Nachi Taisha Shrine and seeing the Nachi Falls, our Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage was officially completed. We had visited all three Kumano Shrines or the Kumano Sanzan. We took the opportunity to extend our stay at Kii-Katsuura with a stay at the Hotel Urashima Resort & Spa (pictured above).

There are over 200 hot springs in Katsuura releasing 21,000 liters of spring water per minute. Hotel Urashima has 12 independent springs itself that steadily produce an abundant volume of sulphur rich spring water of 50℃.

“Hotel Urashima Resort & Spa proudly features a cavernous hot spring bath with a wondrous view of the Pacific Ocean from its cavern, buffets centered on locally caught tuna. It has the feel of an Onsen Disneyland or James Bond-like fortress and is located on an island-like peninsula in Katsuura Bay. There are seven baths scattered throughout the facility including one in a cave overlooking the Pacific Ocean”. 

With a description like the above, who can resist not staying a night at this hot spring resort while in Kii-Katsuura.

After a fabulously good lunch at the Bodai seafood restaurant, we went back to Charmant Hotel to pick up our backpacks left in their lockers. The friendly lady at the Charmant helped made a call to the Urashima to enquire about the earliest check-in time possible for this day. It looked like we could check in earlier at 2 PM, instead of the usual 3 PM.

We made our way to the wharf and spend some time shooting photos of the boats before taking the free ferry to the Urashima.

 Fishing boat at Kii-Katsuura harbour. The fish market is the building at the back.

Colourful fishing nets drying in the sun.


Fishing boats at Kii-Katsuura harbour.


Free “turtle” ferry bringing guests to the Urashima Hotel.

Although located on a peninsula and not strictly an island, the Urashima Hotel is only accessible by ferry boats that were modelled after cute little turtles. Definitely not like a “James-Bond like” fortress, but having to take a ferry to access the hotel adds a little feeling of exclusiveness.

That “exclusiveness” feelings ended when we arrived at the hotel lobby. There were already many people walking to and fro, like a busy airport terminal. November 18, being a Saturday, meant there were hordes of tourists and locals who had made weekend trips from all over Japan to this hotel, just to use the onsens.  Those in yukatas, carrying little green plastic bags containing their personal belongings, were guests that had arrived earlier or on Friday night.  The rest, like us, are the newcomers waiting to be checked in. Urashima’s onsens are also opened to non-guests for a fee.

We had booked a Western style room in the Honkan or Main Building, with ensuite bath and toilets, and included a buffet dinner and breakfast. Our rooms faced the bay and the setting sun. This was was good since it allowed us to use solar power to dry our wet socks, shoes and hiking pants after our morning hike to Nachi Taisha in pouring rain.

As usual, the hotel provided yukatas plus small green plastic bag to carry our towels and stuff that we need when going onsen hopping. There were supposed to be 7 onsens within the hotel but the two located on the high grounds of the Sanjokan were closed for renovation.  The remaining 5 that were opened were:

Boki-do  - It features what no other hot spring cannot: breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean from the the pools set inside a large cave. 

Takinoyu –  For man only.Guests soaking in the outdoor bath may be reminded of the nearby Nachi Falls by the murmuring sound of the water running down the natural rock face.

Hamyunoyu – For woman only. Women will enjoy the reinvigorating and beautifying water as they will emerge feeling like a crinum that blossoms in the salty air of a beach.

Genbudo - The Genbudo bath lets guests experience Mother Nature up-close and direct. Similarly to the Bokido bath, it is a hot spring inside a cave.  Guests could listen to the sounds of the waves striking the shore while relaxing in this hot spring. The water also changes color in line with the weather.

Isonoyu - Of the 6 hot spring baths at Hotel Urashima, Isonoyu has many health benefits and is best for therapeutic bathing.

Dressed in yukatas, we went to visit the Boki-do first. After all, where else can we had the opportunity to enjoy a hot bath inside a natural cave, with views of the Pacific Ocean.  Gents and ladies are separated, no mixed sex bathing of course, since Japanese onsen etiquette required all to be naked and properly cleaned before soaking in the pool. Compared to the onsens we had used on this trip, Boki-do was the most crowded. Fortunately, there were a few pools in the men section, with two pools in the huge cavern and a smaller outdoor pool at the mouth of the cave, overlooking the ocean. So, there was plenty of space for everyone.

We arranged to meet back at the room after the spa and I was the first to be back at the room. The west facing room was warm, especially after the onsen.  I went to the lobby to wait and do some people watching. More and more people were arriving by the ferry loads and I was glad we went to do the Boki-do first.

Most guests of the Urashima would be onsen hopping, moving from one onsen to the other. But we had enough onsen for the day. We went to explore the facilities in the large resort instead.

Urashima is ideal for a family getaway or corporate event. Families, including kids, were fishing at the pier and fishing equipment were available for loan.

Hotel Urashima Resort and Spa in Kii-Katsuura

Urashima Hotel in Kii-Katsuura

There was even a large games arcade, shops and areas set aside for those who may fancy a quiet game of chess or enjoy karaoke with friends.

Buffet dinner with over 40 dishes was served in a large hall. Although the hall was full of people, the system was orderly with people politely queuing to pick what they like to eat.

There was a tuna carving show scheduled daily at about 6 PM.

Tuna Carving show where a “small” yellow-fin tuna was cut and sliced into sashimi for the diners.

Using spoons, guests scooped up the flesh next to the bones till the bones were cleaned. Nothing is wasted.

After dinner, we went to check out the Sunrise Terrace located at the Nisshokan Wing, where we hope to see the sunrise in the morning. The Genbudo onsen is also located at this wing. 

We could see the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the shore. A small lit cave, far away in the rock cliff on my right was actually the Genbudo onsen. 

Using my Canon G5X, I did some long exposure shots of the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean before going back to our room.

Later that night, I went to the Genbudo onsen as planned. It was packed and I was sitting naked, almost shoulder to shoulder with many Japanese men and boys, in an onsen pool right next to the waves of the Pacific. I sat silently, listening to the crashing waves below while looking at the distant lights of boats in the dark sea and ignoring the fellow soakers sitting close by. At times, I could feel the cold spray of the crashing waves on my face as my body remained warm in the hot spring water. Although the Genbudo was more crowded, I somewhat preferred the Genbudo Onsen over the Bukido Onsen. Quite an unique experience.

Note: unfortunately, no photographs allowed in the onsens for obvious reasons. Click on the links to see photos of the onsens from the Urashima website.

We went to the Sunrise Terrace the next morning as planned. A friend once jokingly said to me that it does not make sense to wake up early to see sunrise during vacations as we are seeing the same sun as we would see back home. How wrong he is. Sunrise at the Urashima Hotel is not to be missed on a morning with good weather. It was quite special to to see the changing colours of the dawn sky as red globe emerged from the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. Especially from Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun.

An information board at the hotel lobby had advertised the exact time for sunrise and we got to the Sunrise Terrace at the Nisshokan Wing slightly earlier. We were the only ones there and we had some time to enjoy the ocean views before the sun appeared.

Passing fishing boat as viewed from the terrace of the Urashima Hotel.

Moments before the sun appears at 6.30 AM. The little bit of light in the dark cliff was from the Genbudo onsen.

Zoomed in picture of the Genbudo cave onsen. We could see the heads and white wash cloths of early bathers enjoying a morning bath.

Sun rise over the Pacific Ocean as viewed from the terrace of the Urashima Hotel.

Zoomed in picture of the sun over the ocean.

We had woken early on this beautiful Sunday morning, not just to see the sunrise, but also to visit the Katsuura Fish Market that we missed on Saturday. The earliest ferry from Urashima to the Katsuura Pier was 6.45 AM. We managed to catch this ferry after a brisk walk from the Nisshokan Wing to the Main Building. We were just in time for the tuna auction which started at 7 AM. More about our visit to the Katsuura Fish Market in the next post.

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