I’m in Nikko now, a quiant town in the middle of a mountain valley about 2 hours north of Tokyo. I’ll post more about Nikko later, but I first wanted to share my experience this evening at a Japanese onsen, or natural hot spring.
The short story is I had an extremely relaxing time sitting in the hot bath, and will definitely go as much as I can from now on in various cities. The long story is how awkward the first time is.
There are a few, simple rules to follow at the onsen, but if you don’t do them you can be left very embarrassed. To start off, onsen are for bathing, not showering. So, you have to properly wash and rinse yourself before entering the bath area. This is the most important rule because you’re sharing the bath with others, so the water must remain clean.
Second, the only item you’re allowed to bring into the bath area is a small hand towel. Just to repeat, the only item of any kind you can bring is the small towel. That means no clothes. Yes, you have to be completely naked.
I knew about this beforehand of course since I’ve read about onsen before, but it was definitely still awkward at first. Of course, the baths are gender-separated. Luckily, there were only a couple men in the bath when I went, so it was a smooth first experience. It’s strange at first, but everyone’s naked so it doesn’t matter, and it really is amazing. The bath I went to was surrounded by small gardens and running water. It’s extremely peaceful.
The water is pretty hot, so I only stayed in it in 5-minute periods. Oh, the small towel is for ‘modesty purposes’ when you’re out of the water. You can strategically place it if you want to.
I unfortunately couldn’t take pictures for obvious reasons, but I will be visiting many onsen so I will eventually get some good shots.