There is something in the water! Japan is dotted with volcanos and thus active thermal activities. Taking hot spring or “onsen” bath is an age old Japanese tradition which has now become almost religious. Onsen are spread out throughout Japan but some are valued highly for its water quality and ambiance. The old ones usually do. There are several ‘types’ – indoor and “rotenburo”, outdoor (open air); gender separated and mixed; simple and intricate; family and communal; public,”Sentō” and private (as part of a ryokan). Indoor pools can be tiled or wooden – cypress, oak, cedar. I was looking forward to indulge in this tradition. Navindd and Lee Cheng were apprehensive, nakedness is involved!
My first was at Kawaguchiko. After the long accent and decent on Fujisan, it was only appropriate that I soak this battered old body in a nice hot spring. Near to our hostel is a five star ryokan, Fuji Onsenji Yumedono, which offered its “onsen” facilities at ¥900 (discounted rate). The entrance is landscaped with dense vegetation and wooden buildings. The narrow walkway with lanterns led to a reception hall. First, remove the shoes/slippers and slip on an indoor footwear which were all neatly arranged facing inwards. Here the “onsen” is gender separated with large red (women, “Onnayu”) and blue (men, ” Otokoyu”) “noren” , curtains with a ‘yu’ symbol. Then, to the changing room, “Datsuijo”. There are strict etiquettes’ to follow in an “onsen” experience. Removed all my clothing and left them in a tray. Entered the hot pool (this was an indoor pool). It was steamy with a few people around. There are a few taps with basins and stools along a wall. Here, it is required that one takes a bath, completely scrubbed with soap and washed down (seated, I might add). Now, I entered the hot pool. It was certain HOT! The hot shower did help to acclimatise to the hot spring water. Clothing’s, including towels are not allowed to touch the pool water. Gradually, my whole body was immersed in the mineral water. My body relaxed and sensual appeal of a hot bath set in. I noticed that the men around me had a small towel, “tenugui”, either on their heads or on the side. Basically, it is used to cover the genitals when out of the water. I had none.
The essence of being naked is that all are equal, no boundaries – no differences in status, profession, wealth, etc. I like this ideology. Sweat poured out. I needed another shower. Then, back into the soothing pool again. Just outside the bath rooms, is a large raised wooden platform. Time for pause, sip some tea and to reminisce on my first Japanese “onsen” experience. It was comforting, calming and sedative. I returned the following day for another session. Hakone is a popular “onsen” region with numerous resorts and traditional ryokans. The initial euphoric feeling remained with each experience as we travelled. Immersing oneself in this Japanese tradition is essential and definitely rewarding. Next time, an outdoor or even, perhaps a mixed “onsen”?
“The “onsen” experience is not just entering a hot bath but is much more although subtle – it is the cleansing of the body and mind; a healing place; take time to slow down in a rushed world; recharged as fatigue dissipates; perhaps, in such a place – a zen enlightenment may occur?”