First time at the onsen.
I have no photos yet of this marvelous experience but I will post them as soon as I can. Obviously, not of anyone actually naked but of the bath house itself. I may try to negotiate a picture of the bath area during closing time if I can muster the guts to do so.
For those who don’t know, an onsen is a hot spring that has been fitted for human use. Monkeys use the natural ones in the mountains but I’ve yet to see an animal in one of the people ones. It would likely be considered unclean to have them in there. I digress. The one I went to is in Wakura, one of the most famous onsen towns in Ishikawa. It’s not too far, maybe 15 minute drive or so and was just remodeled. They really like cedar here (or maybe that’s the most abundant tree) so there’s a lot of very lightly stained cedar everywhere and it smells awesome. For this adventure, one of my new found friends named Karen had invited me along. I couldn’t have asked for a better ‘first time onsen trip partner’.
Step by step: first, we took off our shoes and stored them in a little lock box. Then we bought our tickets from a machine and handed them to a woman at the main desk. That part is always a little odd to me… why not just give you the money but oh well. I’m sure it has a good reason for time efficiency that I just haven’t caught yet. Then to the correct door… important… and removal of ALL clothing and storing it in another lockbox. We now grabbed any shower stuff we brought and headed to the rinsing/bathing area. We sat on a stool and washed ourselves in front of a huge mirror. This is also nice because it helps to adjust your body’s temperature to the heat of the hot spring. Then there are several tub areas to choose from, each with a temperature read out. We tried the outdoor one first thinking “ooo it’s pretty outside” but that’s the hottest one. So we gave up and came back in to a slightly less hot bath. There’s also a sauna (which I couldn’t even breathe in) and a cold water area. It’s nice to get all hot and then cool off a little before leaving, especially in the summer heat. I imagine in the winter, few people use the cold water.
The rest is pretty self explanitory. You dry off, weigh yourself if you like, get dressed and head on out or hang out in the public tatami room for a bit. Oh wait, I forgot. There’s NAKED women everywhere. That’s the most intense part of this whole experience. I imagine for guys it’s not quite as intense. Though I am rather free-spirited, this was still a gutsy move for me. I know how it is ladies. I love myself, body included, but not day goes by that I don’t want to change something about it. These women don’t care. Not that they don’t care about me, they just don’t care about nudity. It’s natural and normal in an onsen. The only odd part to them is that I’m a foreigner. The curves and other physical differences make them do a double take sometimes but if I lived in a homogenous society, I think I’d do the same.
So ladies, if you’re thinking of giving one a try, I recommend showing no fear. Don’t worry about a ‘modesty towel’ or holding your arm across your boobies or whatever. Just do it like you’ve done it for a thousand years. Before you know it, you might even start to forget that everyone’s wearing their birthday suit. You’ll be laughing at the little kids throwing cold water on each other just like I did.
With love – M