Monday, March 15, 2010

#21: The Onsen

Doesn't take me long, does it? Yep, I am already behind...sheesh! Well, anyway, without further ado I give you #21...THE ONSEN!

I LOVE the onsen. I will GREATLY miss the onsen. If I were doing this in order of things I will miss the most with the most being at number one the onsen would easily be in my top five. Going to the onsen is a great past time for the Japanese people. It's not just about relaxing but also hanging out with your friends.

So, what is an onsen exactly? The onsen uses water that is pulled up from the earth directly underneath the building that is above it. The kicker, that is difficult for most North Americans to handle(other countries possibly too), is that you go in the buff. That's right, NO BATHING SUITS ALLOWED! Yes, you have to go with a mixed crowd, men and women in the same, that parts not true. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. :) The baths ARE separated into men and women. There are all different kinds of baths. Certain waters are known to have great minerals. Certain areas of Japan are known more for their onsens and people make special trips just to enjoy them. There are baths inside and outside. My favorite experience was when we went to an onsen that was outside and along the ground there was snow and it ran along side a river. Beautiful. The last picture posted in this entry is from that particular onsen. Some of these onsen are a couple of a hundred years old. The atmosphere and landscaping is often very natural looking...lots of wood and greenery. Some of the waters are different temperatures and may vary from bath to bath and location to location.

Here's the process:

Step 1: go into the changing room and strip down.

Step 2: take your very small 3ft X 1ft towel with you that is just big enough to hide the essentials and walk to the showering area. in the showering area there are no such things as're naked! what's the point in stalls?!? Also, you sit down on a little stool to bathe. see below pic.

Step 3: bathe yourself...head to toe.

Step 4: circumspectly stand up from your bathing stool and embrace the fact that you are being seen (but, the japanese are polite, they don't stare...too often anyway)

step 5: make your way to soak and relax in the wonderfully hot waters of the japanese bath. but, be sure NOT to get your bathing towel in the water...this is seen as rude. As that is the towel you just washed your body with...don't put that dirty thing in the clean water! Most people fold the towel and put in on their head (I do this. But first, before leaving the showering area, I get it wet with cold water. I place it on my head to keep me cool) or fold it neatly and place it out side the onsen water.

step 6: SOAK and RELAX..dab yourself with cool water so you don't pass out (Alina Croall! :P) as necessary then go back to.....SOAK and RELAX, SOAK and RELAX.

I never feel quite as relaxed and rested as I do after I get out of the onsen. Not sure what it is about this style of bathing but it is so relaxing. Well, it is for those who can get past the fact they are naked in front of everyone.

I have posted some pics of some of the onsens we have been to. The first four pics shown aren't ours. They were taken from the website of the location. The last one is of Jason and two of our friends, Bernie and Mike.

Inside at one of our favorites: Shiraku Onsen in Yakou (15-20 minutes from our house)

This is from the Hotel Green Plaza in Hakone (about 2 hours away). Yes, you can see Mt. Fuji from the bath outside. It doesn't seem real.

Another outside bath, at the onsen we went to just this past weekend, in Shimoda. It was a great vacay away from Tokyo. (Will blog about that trip later)

The inside of the onsen at Kanaya Ryokan in Shizuoka. Same onsen as the pic above.

In Gunma in the snow. disclaimer: I, Abby, a female, did not take this pic. :)