I’m back from Japan and ready to get back into the swing of things at Fluke. We did a heap of snowboarding, sledding, enjoyed time with our kids, siblings and parents and most importantly my hubby and I had lots of quality time together. Travelling with kids however, comes with certain challenges and at times I wondered what we were thinking. Now that we’re home, all I can remember are the good times and one of my favourite things about Japan was visiting the hot spring bath, or onsen.
Onsen are natural spring baths that use natural water from geothermal heated springs. Volcanic areas are scattered throughout Japan which means that they are abundant and easy to find. They can be located outdoors in nature areas, attached to traditional inns (ryokan), in hotels and villages. Public baths are also prevalent however these typically do not use natural spring water, rather minerals are added to mimic the benefits of the natural onsen.
When I first visited Japan 10 years ago, my hubby (then fiance) introduced me to this wonderful cultural experience at Yakuro Onsen in Niseko. The thought of bathing in the buff in front of perfect strangers was scary to me, but he assured me that it would heal my aching skiing legs and so I agreed and I have never looked back.
The first thing to do before visiting an onsen is to brush up on the etiquette. Onsen and public baths require you to be completely naked so swimsuits are not allowed. Some onsen do not allow tattoos so it is best to check in advance to avoid disappointment. Before entering the dressing area you remove your shoes and grab a basket where you will store your clothes and belongings.
Next up it’s time to get clean. There are washing stations set up in the shower area with a stool to sit on, a plastic or wooden bucket and toiletries for communal use. You must wash yourself completely and remove any soap before entering the onsen. I usually wash my hair at this point as wet hair helps to regulate my temperature.
Some onsen provide small modesty towels which you can use to cover up your bits as you walk around the facilities however you are not allowed to dip them into the water. It is best to leave the modesty towel on the side or keep it on your head while you bathe. I don’t use one because it just gets in the way and some onsens are milky so once you’re in, nobody can see your private bits anyway. Everyone is very respectful and nobody stares at each other, at least in the female onsen!
I get pretty thirsty so I like to have a water bottle which I keep on the side. Some onsen allow alcohol and often have a beer vending machine located just outside the entry, however I find that it just dehydrates me further. Avoiding alcohol also avoids rowdy and noisy behaviour which is strictly frowned upon.
So once all of this is out of the way you dip into the lovely water, which is usually around 41 degrees celcius, and enjoy this ancient ritual. My favourite type is an outdoor onsen and when it snows on your head it is a truly magical experience. The natural spring water is so relaxing, and the heat instantly warms up your bones. Muscles feel relaxed and the mind feels clearer.
I spend about 20 minutes in the water and then hop out to have a quick rinse before getting dressed again. The hotel I visited had a great vanity set up with multiple basins, facial products, hair dryers, straighteners and even a cot to keep kids confined while you sort yourself out which came in handy with my 2 year old daughter. One of the most special memories we made was visiting the onsen with my daughter and my mum. They had the little stools and buckets for kids, baby wash and rubber duckies to keep them occupied.
All in all, it really is something that everyone should experience if visiting this amazing country. We had a particularly stressful last day and the onsen worked its magic to relax and re-centre me!
Have you been to Japan or have you visited a hot spring elsewhere? Let me know by leaving a comment below or email me and connect with me on Instagram. To listen to the latest Fluke podcast, please visit iTunes.
Next week: Westman Atelier review