I finally visited an onsen today! I've been wanting to do it the whole time we've been here, but since public nudity is just not a thing for Americans and there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to doing the onsen, I've been nervous about going. Well, no more!
|King Yumemira, the mascot of this chain of onsen, behind him are the shoe lockers|
Onsen are natural Japanese hot springs, which are easy to come by since Japan is a volcanically active country. (Sentō are indoor bathhouses, but not hot springs.) They are intended to be used for relaxation and health and are popular among all ages. I saw at least one three-generation family at the onsen today. Men and women are separated, though some do have communal areas where you wear a swimsuit.
Basically, upon arrival into the onsen, you undress and then scrub top to bottom in a seated shower area before bathing. The bath is not for cleaning. It's not terribly complicated, and you mostly just need to be mindful of others. Here's a pretty good overview of how to do it.
|You take off all your clothes|
Today, I was taken to an onsen with another military wife, a friend I knew from church back in DC before we both got married, and her sister who is visiting for awhile. Being naked with a friend is a little more personal and odd than being naked with strangers, but it's really not that big of a deal.
|It's a lot like this - pandas, I mean people, of all ages, relaxing in the tub with their towels on their heads.|
Once we scrubbed up, we took a variety of baths - you can see a map here, and use your browser's translate tool. Indoors, we enjoyed a green tea bath and a whirlpool where some sections were deep enough stand and others to sit. Then, we went to the outside portion, which was nice in the cool evening around sunset. We did a salt scrub (rinsing with cold water inside a hot sauna is eye-opening), which felt really good. Next, we laid down on a hot stone bed with water running over it and stared up at the night sky, which was more comfortable than it might sound. My friend particularly recommends it if it's raining, so you have cool water dripping on you, but the stone and water warming you underneath.
To enter the next bath, which was another laying down bath, but inside the water, you had walk into a pool with pebbles big and raised from the floor enough to give you a bit of a foot massage. Nice, but actually a little tricky. Then I took a soak in a big jar or barrel like tub, which was also very comfortable.
At this point, I was starting to run out of time, so I quickly tried a few other bath experiences. In one tub, I splashed my face with mineral water bubbling from where the bath was filling, to get water straight from the source of the hot springs. Then, I went back inside and had a brief moment on a big stone chair with water running down it and a foot bath. The last hot bath I tried was an electric bath - there were little shocks coming at my lower abdomen from behind. I feel like I almost got used to it before I got out, but it was odd.
Finally, I tried to take a dip in the cold tub. I only made it about waist deep before I had to get out. I then noticed a cool shower that others were rinsing in before they got in the cool tub, so I tried it, and it made all the difference. Then it felt good and I wish I had more time to really relax in it. That would be even nicer in the hot summer.
This particular onsen is a little far away from me to go to regularly, but now that I've done it, I absolutely want to try and find more!