Onsen is an important part of Japanese culture. They are geothermal-heated public baths (heated to at least 25°C ) and they can be located either indoors or outdoors (the foremost benefits are that they warm the body and impart physical and mental relaxation; some of them also contain certain dissolved minerals, which are said to help heal illness or injuries).
The most popular legend about how the local love of hot springs originated in Japan, is the story of a Buddhist monk stumbling upon an area full of wounded animals bathing in the hot springs thousands of years ago. When the animals emerged, he noticed they were completely healed. The monk realized these hot springs were special and that people should reap the rewards of their mineral-filled waters.
As I didn’t know before coming here, Japanese people are very shy (that’s why they are drinking alcohol every night, cause it makes them break the barriers, I guess 😀 ) but when I went to the onsen, I realized in Japanese culture being naked together (this is Japan where the only suit allowed in ninety-nine percent of onsen is your birthday suit) helps people to relax and to create a kind of equality with other people, in a relaxing atmosphere. (In the1500s Christian Missionaries tried hard to ban the practice of onsen, as back then public bathing was typically not separated by gender. While they failed to stop the cultural practice, their efforts did lead to the option of separate male and female onsen).
They’re onsen full of water with different properties. The varieties that I saw are the most basic that it’s just hot water, other has a different kind of herbs, another was white hot spring, in which case clear waters develop cloudiness due to ingredients that have dissolved and become suspended in the water. I also heard about onsen that has electricity, which maybe sounds better than the bath of radiation. Yes, I just heard about these two, never saw, never tried (and probably I won’t expose myself to this experiences, because why should I?)
But I also went to one very different onsen. Actually, this onsen was full of unusual baths (not as strange as radioactive water, and in this area, swim-suits are required). This Japanese Spa had the downright ingenious idea of replacing the usual things like water with other things as a sort of quirky take on cleansing our tarnished little soul. I have experienced the Japanese Sake Spa (there is a constant dripping from a huge cask filled with real Japanese Sake!)
It is said that Sake is very good for the beauty of your skin and it was an enjoyable experience taking this type of bath. Then I went to Green Tea Spa (yes, I was relaxing in the huge teapot, with the tea from the foot of the Tanzawa and Hakone mountains).
Next one was Coffee spa, which I liked the most (not sure is it because in that moment I was dying for a cup of coffee, as I went straight from the whole-night-party to the Mountain onsens). This spa contained real coffee made with hot spring water. There were regular performances of pouring real coffee into the spa a few times a day. Actually, the guy started pouring it over my head, so the coffee splashed into my gaping mouth. This was for sure a uniquely Japanese experience (this perked up my senses immediately).
And after coffee, I went to the Wine Spa (it reminded me of the previous night and a lot of wine that was still inside my blood). Sounds like an oenophile’s fantasy. The color of the water looked amazing, I was feeling as Cleopatra, with all my male friends around me.
After that, we went to Ramen Spa (actually, I don’t like ramen, nor ramen’s smell, but at least there were no noodles, just the soup).
In the final stretch of my spa day, my friends and I decided to partake in one of the more traditional hot springs. So I have to separate from them. I was so jealous cause I was alone, and three of them had fun together in the male-naked onsen. I was so scared of all the rules I had to follow before entering the naked-open-air-onsen, but at the end I made it. I just slid into the warm waters to decompress after a long day of relaxation. Like a lot of people that come there, I sat in an outdoor pool of complete silence.
Japan’s hot springs are often found in natural settings, among mountains, along with the seashore or in narrow valleys, which add appeal to the bathing experience. The scenery reflecting the passing of the seasons—cherry blossoms in spring for example, or snowscapes in winter. And open-air baths offer possibly the greatest experience of all hot spring bathing, with nothing coming between you and the sunrise, sunset or dark night skies dotted with countless stars (I am just guessing about this night-time and snowscapes onsens, still didn’t try, but it must be amazing and more enjoyable when viewed from a warm, relaxing bath, right?).
And it isn’t just humans who are attracted to open-air bathing. At Jigokudani (translation: valley of hell – Onsen in Nagano) Japanese macaques can be observed taking a dip in the open-air baths.
During the 60s they came down from mountains with the desire to try thermal baths and then decided to stay there.
According to numerous legends, it is believed that the monkeys that come in the winter downhill from the mountains into the valley are actually heralds of mountain’s Shinto gods. Wholly wild monkeys, completely accustomed to human presence.
So, as I said in some of the previous posts, I just need some bamboo reed or something like that so I can breathe, and leave me underwater.