The Onsen Experience

For those of you who have never heard the word ‘onsen’ before, let me give you some quick background info. Onsens are public Japanese hot springs believed to have healing qualities because their water possesses such high mineral content. Public bathing in these onsens is common practise most Japanese people do on a regular basis. If you were born in Japan, you are taught proper onsen etiquette from an early age. There are a few rules you need to know before you go and should follow all instructions to a T so you don’t offend anyone or do something unsanitary. Before you can enter the bath/springs you need to get completely naked! No bathing suits allowed! There is a wash area with small showers that you have to sit on little stools to use.  Start scrubbing. Even when you think your body is clean, you still need to keep washing until you’re basically turning red. I’m talking under your toenails, behind your ears, in your bellybutton. They take this shit seriously. Then and only then are you able to enter the baths. I wasn’t sure how crazy I was over the idea of sharing a bath with a bunch of naked women, but this is such a big practise here, plus the benefits of the baths are amazing so I figured I needed to check this off the bucket list for the full Japanese experience… When in Rome right? Luckily I convinced my roommate to come with me for moral support! There was an onsen literally right next door to our apartment so we just walked on over. In hindsight I really should have picked a place that was a little more touristy because this place was the real deal…

We get to the locker rooms and look around. There was nothing written in English and everyone seemed to know what they were doing. (Keep in mind all the above info I just told you, we had no clue about. We were going in blind.) Super apprehensive, we finally decided to just man up and start this process. We would just strip down like  everyone else was doing. No big deal. Heading on over to the showers, I bravely went in first and sat down on one of the little stools to wash up.  My eyes were burning from all the exposed body parts walking around and I was really trying not to fuck things up by doing the wrong thing in my wash procedure. I’m pretty nervous at this point so I look to my roomie for strength…What do I see? SHE LEFT ME YOU GUYS!!! I froze, I see her running back towards the doors shooting me a look of horror and yelling behind her “I’m sorry I cant do this” Now completely alone I slowly look around. I was the only white girl there and everyone was staring at me. Like I’m not kidding, it didn’t help that I towered over everyone by 3+ feet and I’m probably being paranoid here, but when everyone is collectively looking and gesturing at your naked body while talking amongst themselves in a language you can’t understand, you start turning a little red. The inner dialogue in my head at this point is telling me to run out of there after my roomie, but I remind myself that I am not in fact a pussy, and this is meant to be RELAXING so enjoy it. HA! I got back to washing while trying to discreetly watch the other women out of the corner of my eye to see if I am doing anything wrong. They are all still staring at me, the lady beside me is leaning over me glaring. Wtf is happening? Am I washing myself wrong?! All I wanted to do at this point was get in that fucking bath to reap these mineral benefits. This pool better have some relaxation properties in it because I’m going to need it after all this stress.

There are three different baths. Hot, cold, and warm and all of them have the same soft, black,  volcanic water. I decided to get in the hot one first. The water was thick with minerals and I immediately felt myself unwinding as soon as the water swirled around my skin. I sat back letting myself sink down into the water and closed my eyes deciding that this wasn’t so bad after all… JUST KIDDING! Sensing someone next to me I opened my eyes… Standing right in front of me, hands on hips, there’s a lady jutting her pelvis out right next to my face. Wtf happened to personal space? Jumping away from this weirdo, I figured it would be a perfect time to hop in the cold bath. I plunged straight in, not giving myself time to adjust to the temperature. After the initial shock, I could feel the amazing sensation of my whole body tingling and rejuvenating, my pores were opening, cleansing, and then closing. I felt refreshed and energized. After awhile of this hot and cold, sometimes alternating to the warm pool, I spent some time really letting the minerals soak into my skin. When I finally decided to do my last cold plunge and get dressed again, I couldn’t believe how AMAZING I felt. My whole body was tingling and I felt brand new. My skin was glowing and I felt so calm, peaceful, and inspired, Afterwards I took some time to read up on some of the health benefits of these pools and the lists were so long and extensive but what I found to be the most interesting was that aside from boosting white blood cell count and detoxing your body. Hot and cold mineral onsens can also go so far as to revitalize your chakras and cleanse your auric field! I’m definitely going to vouch for those points because I definitely feel reborn right now.

All in all, I think my onsen experience was a positive one because you really cant beat that amazing feeling you have when your done, BUT, I will definitely be going to a different onsen next time. Perhaps one that’s a little more geared towards the western culture of personal space. I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone who might be visiting Japan but definitely do your research on which onsen you go to beforehand so you don’t encounter any crazy surprises like I did! There are thousands here scattered all around and each one has slightly different mineral properties based on which springs they are built over. I forsure will do this again and armed with what I know now hopefully I will breeze through it without blinking and eye.
P.S. Sorry for the unrelated pictures. No photos are allowed in onsens for obvious reasons.

1 Comment

  • hahaHA I had a very similar experience last month while travelling in Japan with two (soon to be very) close friends. We learned quickly that our personal space was about to be invaded by more genitalia than I could have anticipated. But thankfully, on the men’s side, it sounds like there were a lot less judgement going around. We had the most incredible experience in a place called Tokyo Somei Onsen Sakura in Sugamo prefecture, BIG recommend. I left after nearly two hours of rotating through 6 stations of hot/cold baths, silky white mineral baths, hot saunas, hot bedrock baths, and a jet bath with so many jets it was nearly inappropriate. The experience is so relaxing and it cost less than $20. If they had that here in Edmonton, I’d go multiple times a week. Thanks for sharing Sasha and I hope your friend made up for ditching you. Keep on exploring!

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