Today I went to visit the local onsen, Yura no ri.  It loosely translates to something along the lines of “Village hot springs.”  After an accidental self-guided driving tour (and $5 spent on a road toll!) I finally ended up at the hot springs.  It was a pretty nasty day outside and hot springs were the perfect remedy.

Japan is volcanic, thus the abundance of hot springs.  Onsen are essentially spas–sitting in the hot springs is incredibly relaxing, and the minerals in the water are often good for a variety of ailments.  People can also get massages and all different sorts of spa treatments.

Here’s the catch though–going to the onsen means getting naked in front of a bunch of complete strangers (and friends if you go in a group) of the same sex.  There are mixed onsen, but generally most onsen are gender segregated.  This is often problematic for Westerners, because this can be quite awkward for us.  In Japan, however, there is a concept known as “Hadaka no tsukiai” or “naked association.”  People are able to bond in this manner with one another, perhaps by reducing themselves to their–literally–barest human state.

So I went in to the onsen today and decided to just use the baths.  Inside the complex there are a variety of things: a restaurant, multiple saunas, a massage parlor, places to just sit and relax, and of course, the baths.  Generally what happens is men and women split off to their respective locker rooms, and directly from the locker rooms you can enter the “Ofuro” or “baths.”  Again, most onsen are gender segregated so it’s just same-sex.  Once you have entered the baths, you first wash yourself, and once clean you can enter the baths.  There are usually indoor baths, outdoor baths, hot baths, super hot baths, a cold bath to help you cool off, and a sauna.  Usually people rotate between all of these things.  Of course I was the only non-Japanese person at the onsen today, go figure.  My favorite type of baths to go to in the winter are “Rotenburo” or “outdoor baths.”  They are often high temperature baths to counter the cold.  Looking out over Tokyo Bay in the wintry gray afternoon with the steam from the onsen blowing in the wind was incredibly relaxing, and very Nihon-rashii (Japanese-like).  Quite a fabulous Sunday all in all.

* photo not taken by me