Onsens (Hot springs)!
The first year we lived in Japan we went on a family ski trip to Hakuba and we ran into other families from the base. After skiing all day, a dad of one of my daughter’s friends convinced my husband to go try an onsen with him that evening.
At first, I thought…hmmm uh ok? And thought to myself, I won’t get weird about it, I mean we are in Japan! I had heard about onsens from my peers but didn’t know a lot about them and just thought it was strange for people to knowingly bathe nude together.
Well my husband went, he also convinced my son to go and they both were gone quite some time, a few hours. When they returned that evening, they shared stories about all the personalities of other men they had met while at the onsen, as well as how extremely relaxing it had been. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to try it on that trip. But the next ski trip, I decided to give it a go.
It was amazing! I was kicking myself for not trying it earlier. I got a few looks from the locals, not bad ones just more ‘curious’ than anything, the Japanese don’t usually see Americans in onsens.
After that I was hooked! I introduced it to our daughters who equally enjoyed it as well. Especially during the wintertime or after skiing, it’s hotter than a jacuzzi and really relaxes your muscles. By sitting in an onsen for about 20 minutes, your sore muscles are literally in heaven. We even convinced my Mom to try it on one of her visits, and well she totally loved it. Not to mention the last winter we lived there, she came to visit and the one thing she absolutely wanted to do was “onsen” before she left!
Onsens are in essence “hot springs.” In Japan, there are open-air onsens and traditional onsen baths located inside. I prefer the open-air ones myself. You can find them in metropolitan cities, in the country, or in many of the hotels in the mountains. They are a way of life for the Japanese.
They are separated by gender. Once you arrive, you undress, put your things in a locker or cubby. Then you enter the bathing area with a small washcloth. Before entering the onsen, you must first wash your body off at the individual sinks which have soap, shampoo, and conditioner. If you have visible tattoos, you usually are not allowed in. After washing yourself off, you can go into the onsen. Your washcloth is not allowed inside the onsen, that’s why many women put it on their heads. In the onsen, there are steps, chairs, or stones beneath the water to sit down or even lie down…and it is very, very hot! Many people talk quietly among themselves. Although sometimes after drinking a little too much sake, adults will onsen before they go to bed.
Nevertheless, it is a totally awesome experience. Just writing this, makes me miss