Thursday, November 17, 2016

Visiting the Onsen

Japan's volcanic nature makes for a soothing and healing experience for those of us on the surface. For centuries Japanese have embraced the bubbly, hot, mineral water that lies below them by digging and tapping into the supply for human enjoyment. 

All across Japan there are thousands of onsens or hot springs baths. Some are in beautifully built spas that offer all kinds of additional services. Some are out in the open air, letting the bather be intertwined in nature. Some are just in neighborhoods, enjoyed in the evening by the people living nearby. Wherever the location, the onsen, is a large component of Japanese culture. One that I will GREATLY miss upon my return to the United States. 

For me, I visit my neighborhood onsen, usually on a weekly basis. My visit starts with entering the building and buying a ticket for entry at the machine in the lobby. Each visit costs me ¥440 or just over $4.00. Once I enter the female locker room I choose a locker and begin undressing. Public onsens are of course segregated by gender, but some onsens offer a more private family bathing experience. 

Once completely nude, I take my small basket of personal cleaning products into the onsen itself. When you enter, it is customary to wash your body and hair first, before getting into the mineral water bath. There are small shower stations lining the walls which have a mirror, light, hot and cold tap, and a shower head. You grab yourself one of the plastic stools provided, sit down at your station, and shower yourself. 

Once you are clean you can now enter one of the multiple large baths filled with hot, mineral water from the ground below. The different baths are heated to a bit different temperatures and offer different features such as bubbles for a neck massage or back massage. It's just like being in a large hot tub. The water and my neighborhood onsen is tinted brown, due to its mineral content. There is also one bath that is filled with cold water to cool your body down between dips in different baths.

Different onsens around Japan have different types of water with different mineral components. They vary in color and may provide different health benefits. 

My onsen  also has a sauna inside of it, something that is extremely enjoyable for me. I have a ritual which includes spending a bit of time in each of the baths, dipping in cold to cool down, entering the sauna, dipping in cold, so on. There's not too much rhyme or reason to it, I just try to enjoy the experience of relaxing in the warmth for a good amount of time without over heating. 

Visiting this onsen is a very meditative experience for me. I move slowly around the room partly to not slip on the floor, but also because this environment is very relaxing. This relaxed state allows me me to melt any cares away. Sitting in the sauna, I close my eyes, and get some moments of peace as my body temperature is elevated and my heart rate calm. 

This nearby onsen is by far the best Japan has to offer, but I love the experience that it brings me and the benefits in can bring to my skin and muscles. Japan is full of absolutely gorgeous outdoor bathing experiences that are loved by tourists from all over the world. I hope to one day visit a beautiful outdoor onsen bathing in nature, like the Earth child that I am! 

Humans are not the only ones who love the onsen in Japan. These Japanese Macaques love bathing in the warm water at this wild monkey park in Nagano prefecture.