The Japanese cult of relaxation — and, yes, getting naked — is far from jam-packed trains and technology’s endlessly time-gnawing demand. Don’t be shy. Strip down, bathe and partake in an onsen (hot spring bath), one of Japan’s oldest pastimes. Like most things here, a common occurrence is transformed into an art form among the forests of Gunma Prefecture, the ocean side of Shizuoka or the mountain peaks of Hokkaido.
Onsen locales satiate the Japanese craving for deep nature and require that extra bit of trip planning. What I’ve learned, though, is — it’s worth it. Fully immersing myself in a day trip or a weekend getaway has stuck in my memory for life and is a very big payoff for a little legwork.
When I first visited Japan, people told me, “Oh, you’ve got to try the bath houses!” Yet, what I had skeptically pictured — a crowded public pool with boiling hot water — was nothing like the real thing.
At the onsen, which is more like a leisure factory, young and old — and sometimes male and female — bathe together in mineral-rich natural spring water. This practice is often credited for the preponderance of Japan folks’ youthful skin. That alone should be enough to make you want to try it. (If you’re already an onsen aficionado — see recommended locales below!)
Why you gotta try it
And, yes, I know what you first-timers are thinking, because I thought it, too.
“Um… No thanks. Spend money to take a bath with a bunch of randos? She truly drinks the Kool-aid… and it’s part onsen water… ”
Three years ago (when I first came to Japan), I was right there with you. Alas, I haven’t drunk Kool-aid since 1999. So, let’s get all of the big questions out of the way. Then, I’ll recommend some awesome onsen.
Why would I want to bathe with other people when I can bathe at home/in a hotel?
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