Monday, November 15, 2010

Onsen Time

…cause bathing in a group is always fun.
Lisa asked me if I tried this yet, and now I have!

Mark and I went decided to try going to an Onsen for the 1st time on Veteran’s Day last week. For those of you who do not know what and onsen is, it’s a Japanese bath house. Still clueless? A Japanese bath house is where you go and soak in a hot spring, sometimes natural, sometimes not. Basically an overgrown hot tub. This one is not made to look natural, it is like a shallow swimming pool and they mix in special ingredients to make your soak good for you skin and your body inside and out. For this area, you must wear a bathing suit. In other hot spring areas clothes are not worn. When you are done soaking in the pool you then go inside and take off you swim suit and dry it in the spinner. Time to get naked with the locals. Since this part is in the dressing room you will see people with their towels wrapped around them, hiding as much as possible but yet if it shows, no one really cares and believe me, everyone around you could care less if there is a “nipple slip”. Too bad the Super bowl wasn’t at a Japanese bath house, huh? There is another closed off area where you are allowed to wash, but if you are looking for western showers, you will be looking for a while. In the bath you will see stalls that are not closed off, stools, buckets, and a metal cup with holes in the bottom. Don’t ask me what the metal cup is for, I doubt I could tell you what the shallow plastic bucket is for, I assume rinsing. You sit on the stool in your shower cubical and in front of you are a mirror and water faucets, along with a removable shower head. The water is turned on by you pressing the knob like the timed water sinks you may see in public restrooms and there is one for the shower head and for the regular faucet. It’s by your knees and I am thinking is used to fill your rinsing bucket, and your feet. Never mind sitting beside other people, only women for me, they aren’t worried about you, or if they were I made sure not to pay attention. My eyes were on me only. After your shower you can get dressed, which is what Mark and I opted for or you can go for another soak in bath water. In Japan, you bath water is purely for soaking, not for washing. After you wash, you go relax in the tub. There is a larger one, where it seems is big enough to move around in as Mark found out on his side that old Japanese men like to exercise in the larger tub kept at 40 degrees Celsius. There is also a smaller tub, made to look like a natural mini hot springs in which you can also soak in. You will not be in here alone though and no one has their clothes on, be advised. Now, if I had someone with me that could coach me through this experience, I may have decided to be a bit braver. As it was, it was my 1st time and I don’t like to offend the locals and with a culture of rules, I didn’t want to do it wrong! At least I watched enough anime to know, you wash 1st. Anime is good for something beside entertainment. It is funny how much Mark and I learned from anime and how the Japanese people are surprised at what Mark and I know. We often get a, “How did you know that?!” Mark and I laugh because those who know us know we have been priming out life for Japanese living, but as much as we like to be “in tune” we don’t know as much as we would like, but we are changing that and are not afraid to ask questions and our local friends are not afraid to answer. Mark is now addicted it. Mark not only loves water but he loves jacuzzis so it’s a double win and has been asking to go back since last Thursday. Maybe we will go again soon.

Some things you may need to know about bath houses:

Luckily the one that we went to, Chula-U, is used to American costumers so they will allow Americans to have tattoos. If you are Japanese, however, you are not so lucky. For Japan, it is still a sign of the yakuza to have tattoos, so they will not let you in the bath unless you find a way to keep it covered, which in a place that demands you to be naked, good luck with that. Again, with Chula-U you have to be clothes in the one hot spring, but not in the bathing part.

Don’t go expecting to take pictures of this part of Japan and its culture; I am sure you can guess why. Picture taking in the bath house is strictly prohibited.

If you have a problem with being naked around people and naked people being around you, I suggest you stay at home. There are no changing rooms that we are used to and, young or old, nakedness in not a big deal for the Japanese.

It’s a place to go and relax, take your time, bring the family. It’s good for your skin and fun for the family. Would you pay 1,000 yen to take a bath, not always, but Mark and I will go back soon I am sure!

Food for thought?
Yakiniku, Korean food with a Japanese name and you cook your food for yourself on a grill or hot plate depending on the place.  At the "Red Roof" it's a grill and it's crazy delicious. 

Sayonara from the Scott’s!

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