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Offline Danee

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Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs.
« on: January 20, 2010, 04:43:52 pm »

Shedding a lifetime of inhibitions; Hot springs, known as onsens, reflect Japanese culture's love and respect for beauty of nature

Saturday, January 16th, 2010 | 6:00 am

Canwest News Service

All in all, travelling in Japan isn't exactly a scary experience. There have been moments that caught me off-guard, such as stumbling upon a yakuza "transaction" in a dark parking lot, feeling my first earthquake, and being unwillingly squashed into the last square inch of a bullet train.

The most frightening experience, however, is taking the cultural and physical plunge into a Japanese onsen.

Onsens are natural, mineral-rich hot springs where the locals go to relax, rejuvenate and heal. Imagine a more structured, less debaucherous, version of the North American hot tub culture: tattoos are banned, food and drink are not permitted, washing and bathing are performed in a particular order, and everyone must be naked. That's right– stripping down to your birthday suit is a requirement, not an aftermath.

Practised for centuries, the tradition is as widely spread as the 20,000 hot springs found throughout the country's volcanically active islands. Most onsens reflect the culture's love and respect for the beauty of nature. They are commonly located in mountainous, serene settings free of neon lights and crowded streets.

After travelling just 45 minutes from Kyoto to Kurama, I find myself surrounded by cedar trees, a crisp winter chill and complete silence. The only sign of life comes from a little booth where visitors must pay their entrance fees.

In exchange for $15 worth of Japanese yen, an older gentleman with smiling eyes and no English points me in the direction of 100 stone steps and hands over a washing/modesty towel about one square foot in size. Which square foot of my body should I cover? So many choices, so little cloth.

It's helpful to remind oneself that exposing all your assets really isn't such a big deal. In Japanese hot tubs, soaking naked is a ritual meant to promote "hadaka no tsukiai," which loosely association through

translates to "nakedness." Families, friends and companies often arrange onsen retreats as a bonding experience.

After entering the women's section, all clothes and belongings are placed into one of the provided baskets. This is the point of no return. Exiting the comfort of the change room and entering the outdoor bathing area, I come face-to-face with a lifetime of inhibitions, Mount Kumara in the distance and an empty pool. Hello world. Here I am. And there's nobody here — hallelujah! The introduction is quite freeing, really. Like riding a bike, being naked outdoors just comes naturally.

Thoughts quickly turn to the below-freezing air temperature. Steaming, therapeutic waters are tempting me to pass on the customary pre-rinse. However, to the right of the three-foot shallow hot spring is a row of 10 perfectly aligned bathing stations waiting to be put to use. Each is equipped with plastic stools, buckets, toiletries and removable showerheads. But who would want to take an outdoor shower in this

weather? I guess it's really not optional.

After what would probably make the world record for the fastest rinse ever, I'm left feeling colder than an Aeroflot flight attendant. The equally chilly ground leaves me no option but to tiptoe and hop over to the onsen as if I were a rookie sadhu making his first jaunt across a bed of hot coals.

Using my toes to test the water temperature is a huge mistake. "Oh my god, mother of" -it's hot. One more degree and it would be boiling. The only factor pushing me into the onsen is the whole nudity thing, and that I would feel much more comfortable (mentally, if not physically) submersed in the modesty of the waters.

Suddenly, there are voices in the distance. As they get closer, it's a big deep breath in and into the water I go. It's all mind over matter.

Out of nowhere a group of four middle-aged Japanese women come sprinting towards the hot tub. Defying all rules, they bypass the showers, not even giving them a second look, let alone a first. All four happily jump into the hot spring, literally making waves. After some group chatter, one of the women turns to me and asks curiously: "Did you shower?" Unable to come up with a Japanese version of, "Is the Pope Catholic," I answer with a simple, yet proud, "Yes." Who's the rookie now?

Slipping into the onsen culture has proved to be as easy as slipping my nearly frozen body into the therapeutic hot springs themselves. It's a little painful and nerve-wracking at first, but with a warming payoff.

Alexa Love, 29, of New Westminster, back-packed through Japan for three weeks in December. She says of her trip: "Despite the images of Japan as a bustling neon-lit country, it proved to be a relaxing and easy place to travel."

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Re: Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs.
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2010, 06:43:17 am »
An onsen, I would like to try it.
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Re: Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs.
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2016, 03:00:29 pm »
Heading to Kyushu this weekend for some Onsen hoping. Planning on seeing Kurokawa and Yufuin. If anyone has been in the area I would love to know!


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Re: Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs.
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2016, 09:57:51 pm »
Going in spring next year. I'll take recommendations for good ones!

Offline David B

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Re: Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs.
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2016, 04:45:22 am »
I would love to go someday. But i would have to find one that allows people with tattoos since most don't allow tattoos.

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Re: Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs.
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2016, 12:33:10 am »
Moved to Japan recently... Went to one in Tokyo so far... Plan on hitting up a bunch
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Re: Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs.
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2016, 01:08:27 am »
Im glad this got bumped, I learned something today. And I really want to try this.  It seems really relaxing, calming, almost like a kind of meditation or the way you feel the day after a good therapy session and a good nights sleep. 

I can sense how this is a healthy thing for people

Offline SurfNatural

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Re: Onsens, Japanese Hot Springs.
« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2016, 04:30:46 am »
This is an small trip report on the areas in Japan I mentioned (Yufuin and Kurokawa)

Small famous Onsen town in southern Japan. My wife and I stayed one night here and enjoyed it overall. We stayed in an standard onsen hotel and had fun walking along the main street area. The highlight of our two day stay here would have to be our visit to the small and rustic onsen that was probably fed by the oldest Onsen in continuous use in the city. "Shitan-yu is an old, mixed bathing, open-air, hot spring public bath located by the side of the lake. The building is thatched with the onsen pool being half-covered by a roof and half-open to the elements."(forgot where I got this quote from but it is spot on).

Shitan-yu was our first use of a mixed gender Onsen and we will always remember it. Since it was a public and unattended onsen you could drop 200 yen in the coin slot and stay as long as you wished. While we soaked, a heavily tattooed man and his bubbly young daughter (maybe 5-6 years old) came into the small Onsen. This was particularly touching because here was a dude who I would have never seen in a typical Onsen (those with tattoos are typically forbidden from entering most staffed onsens due to their possible gang affiliation) and was probably one of the most sweet and caring fathers. Seeing men with their daughters in the Onsen is not unusual if their children are still young (before puberty) but in my broken Japanese I could hear him ask frequently if the water was to hot and if she was comfortable to which she always responded happily. Not only was he being quite attentive but he was also taking up the role of courteous host as he asked my wife and I questions in Japanese while we fumbled our way through conversation.  The nervousness my wife had with being nude with complete strangers in a confined space melted away as time spent with this gentleman showed everyone in the spring that day how dated the tattoo ban truly was.

Getting late here but I will write a review on Kurokawa a little latter. Also a beautiful spot.

Big thanks to:

« Last Edit: July 12, 2016, 04:33:25 am by SurfNatural »