Naked Japan - An Onsen Experience
Japan’s Mount Fuji is certainly one of the most beautiful mountains of the planet. This sacred giant is a picture perfect backdrop to the five surrounding lakes. It’s almost perfect symmetric shape and snow covered peak has been inspiration for countless artists and poets. On a clear day the mountain is visible from central Tokyo and it never fails to prompt an “Ah, Fuji-san da!” from the urbanites in awe of it’s beauty. It is also a constant reminder of the delicacy of life.
As an active stratovolcano, for years, experts have been predicting an eruption is perhaps overdue. It has been 308 years since the last eruption in 1707, an eruption that lasted two weeks and covered the surrounding areas with ash as far as 100km away. Although a popular subject of conversation, Tokyoites remain stoic. Perhaps they have developed an immunity to fear through daily living where earthquakes are commonplace. Living in Japan, very often I was only alerted to an occurring earthquake through the swaying of a ceiling lamp. Whilst working in skyscrapers, we could feel the gentle swaying to and fro motion almost monthly, but we were never scared.
One of the great things about living in a volcanically active country are the abundance of hot springs that are never far away. Anyone visiting Japan would sure miss out on a uniquely Japanese and delightful experience if they did not experience traditional Japanese Onsen.
Whilst there are many Onsen you can visit just to take a bath, I highly recommend you immerse yourself in the whole experience and book one night stay at a Ryokan (a high end Japanese inn) or Minshuku (a cheaper alternative but often just as delightful). When booking a stay, choose a place that has Rotenburo (open air bathing), and if you are with your partner, you might want to check if they offer mixed bathing (Konyoku).
Not only are the mineral rich hot springs considered for their health benefits, but for centuries, hot springs were also a place for “hadaka no tsukiai” or naked socializing. They were places to get to know co-workers or potential business partners and there was no sense of modesty or concept of shyness. Although most Japanese hot springs now offer segregated bathing, many still have mixed bathing, and the high-end Onsen very often provide you with your own private outdoor hot spring to enjoy with your partner.
A word on Onsen etiquette –
Patrons must never enter into a hotspring without first bathing in the public washing area. This involved you undressing in the changing room and picking up a tiny white towel which you use to cover your private parts. You then walk into the washing area and sit on a small stool, usually made of plastic or wood. Don’t be perturbed by the naked strangers washing next to you, this is all perfectly natural. Shampoo and soap are provided, and use the towel to lather up the soap and start scrubbing your body. Use the plastic ladles by filling them with water and rinsing your body. Wash your hair. Only once your are perfectly clean can you make your way to the hot spring. Some hot springs do not allow you to dip your white towel in the water since the threads can block up the drainage, so watch everyone else and copy them. Many Japanese men simply fold the towel and put it on their head or on a stone and enter the bath naked. With mixed bathing, men cover their frontal private parts, and women (with a slightly larger towel) cover as much of their bodies as the towel permits. Bear in mind that these thin white towels become almost semi transparent when wet.
Please note that many Onsen do not allow people with tattoos or may require you to wear a patch over your tattoo.
I have put together a small list of the best hot spring resorts where not only will you be able to enjoy outdoor bathing by rivers, in forests, or with the mountain snow, but where the food is also a gastronomic delight. I recommend a one night stay at most, and perhaps doing a two day trip so you can experience two different experiences. Dinner and breakfast is usually included in the price.
Gorakadan - This is an exclusive Ryokan with exceptional facilities located a couple of hours away from Tokyo in Hakone. They offer typically Japanese style rooms with private wooden and stone bathing facilities.
Takaragawa Onsen – Located in Gunma prefecture, about 3 hours by train from Tokyo, here you can experience one of Japan’s largest open air bathing experiences alongside the gorgeous Takaraga stream. They have a number of mixed bathing areas and one women only bathing areas for the modest.
Momijiya Bekkan Kawa no Iori – Another riverside Ryokan just a short train ride from Kyoto. Rooms offer private bathing with majestic views of the surrounding countryside. Best time to go is late Autumn when you can view the sumptuous Japanese maple trees turning a golden red.
Konansou – Located on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi and just 105 minutes by bus from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, here you can enjoy bathing with stunning views of Mount Fuji.
Dean Owen is Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment. Search, Connect, Chat, and Video Interview candidates, all from within a single platform.
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