Onsens are a big part of the Japanese lifestyle and a great way to keep warm in the cold Japanese winters. They are popular throughout Japan, which has its fair share of natural hot springs because it sits on a fault line. However, for those who are not experienced in the onsen, they are a little unusual…
An onsen is a Japanese hot bath. They are shared baths, usually split by sex, where you bath together and enjoy the hot relaxing and beneficial water. The waters are usually natural and often have different properties, such as good for the skin or good for stress. You are naked and it is required that you give yourselves a good scrub down before getting in! This is a slightly unflattering aspect of the bath, as you sit on a small plastic stool, naked, in a large open room, scrubbing yourself. Still, it is an important process as you are about to get into a large shared bath..!
Once you are used to the quirks of the onsen experience (scrubbing, no hair in water, no clothing, no towels in water etc) it can be very relaxing! Dan and I often frequent a local onsen in a nearby onsen town (Kawatanaonsen) in the Grand Hotel. Often on a thursday evening there are few, if any other bathers. We have also discovered that they have private onsens too! These are for families and couples who want to bath together, rather than be separated by sex.
So as a treat after our half marathon run in December, we made a reservation! It was a pretty nice onsen and very relaxing experience. I am not usually allowed to show my two small tattoos and so it was a nice relief to not have to worry about that! It was a great way to unwind together and soak our very tired limbs. It also kept us warm for the rest of the evening – another benefit of the onsen!
So if you are ever in Japan, please try an onsen experience.