Whilst in Japan we thought we would go and experience the Japanese Onsen, or baths. After discovering my love for the Jjimjilbang in Korea, we couldn’t wait to let our hair down and relax a little after a few hectic days and sore feet in a Japanese bath house.
After a little research we found the biggest Spa in Asia, Spa Land. It has 8 floors of spas with spas from all around the world… okay so not authentic onsen but how could you resist such a grand place. We headed there which is right beside the subway stop and looms over the neighborhood making it hard to miss. Walking in there were great big signs and we were to busy laughing at the not allowed in if you are ‘dead drunk’ to notice the other sign about tattoos.
We paid our entrance fee and went to the desk to collect our things when we noticed the tattoo sign. Now we did hear about this before however we thought it was more about the gang tattoos. Andy asked the lady if ours would be okay since they are both small however she said that we could not come in. Now I am not trying to make fun of Andy’s (or my) tattoos but really they are the least offensive tattoos and the least gang related tattoos you could possible find. (Andy having a boxing kangaroo and me having a treble clef and my name in Thai!) In Japan tattoos still have a massive association with the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia) and no matter how big or small your tattoo is many onsens will not allow you in!!
We decided to head to a more authentic onsen. We got to one way outside the main city called Spa Suminoe, it was full of Japanese, no westerners in sight and everyone seemed to be fascinated with my hair colour! Like the Korean baths the onsen is separated by gender. So we agreed a time and gave ourselves and hour and a half to enjoy. Going in you have to strip naked and shower, making sure you don’t go into any of the baths dirty.
It is very similar to the Korean baths, I think the Korean ones actually came from the Japanese influence. The naked part didn’t both me at all as I was used to it with the Korean baths however unlike the Korean baths they were not afraid to look and watch me! Especially a group of young girls who followed me about giggling! It was slightly unnerving! I went about the various baths, Jacuzzi’s (which all have different types of jets) and then different saunas where you can either rub salt over you, sit in a sauna and watch TV or just chill out in a cooler room. Then you have the flat bath where it is like a bed with water running down it to wash off the salt in your body.
It was really relaxing and as we only had one shower between about 50 people in our hostel it was nice just to spend a bit longer under a hot shower and wash away the days dirt and grime.
We actually enjoyed it so much (mainly due to the sharing the shower part) that we tried an even more authentic one the next day down the back streets at our hostel. The idea was the same only this time it was ONLY locals, with more stares and weird looks.
I decided to go chill out in the outdoor hot spring when a lady came over and sat beside me smiling, I smiled back and said hello and she began talking to me, oblivious to my discomfort! She was actually lovely and when she couldn’t figure out what to say she called out and a little boy of about 10/11 came running over (he seemed to big to be in the ladies section!!) and as it was a sunken hot spring with him standing in front of us I REALLY didn’t know where to look! The lady gave me all her washing basket to use with conditioner, shampoo, body scrub… you name it!!
I got showered, changed and dried off and went off to meet up with Andy to swap our stories… his story even more awkward than mine as he had an old man in his section bent over using a toothbrush to… umm… clean… umm…the wrong end of ummm…. you figure it out!!
It sounds like it wouldn’t be enjoyable however, like the Korean baths, once you are over your naked-ness you relax and begin to unwind and end up in a ridiculously relaxed state!!
If you are in Japan is it one of the things you just have to give it a go!