Sunday, July 23, 2006

Onsen

On a Saturday night, there is one building that is packed, and the place to be. No, it isn't the movies, or the mall either, it is the public bath! Quite late on Saturday afternoon, my family told me to get ready because we were going visit an onsen. An onsen is a building that is dedicated specially as a public bath center / spa. I had a small experience with the community ofuro at camp, but this onsen was different. It was much bigger, with many more baths (all public and together). I was very skeptical on how the trip would be, since in America, it seems almost unheard of to go to a place to relax in the same huge hot-tub together with several other, well, lets just be obvious, naked people. It turned out to be EXTREMELY relaxing. For only 5 dollars a person, I was surprised that all of the bath/spa facilities were open, which I thought was really amazing. There were, however, separate facilities for men and women, but other than that, there is NO privacy. The first floor of this facility had spa goods, a massage parlor (for additional prices), and a restaurant with a dining room with low rising tables and tatami flooring! The second floor is all baths. Before you enter the ofuro tubs, you must wash yourself very well. There are rows of low showers, mirrors, and stools to wash yourself right outside the tubs. No soap ever enters a Japanese tub. You must wash yourself outside, the tub is for relaxing. Japanese showers are not stand up. You have a stool, and clean your self in a low seated position. The experience was wild for me, since I have never done anything quite like it before. Your privacy barrier must almost immediately break down, since the place IS packed, and there is nothing else you CAN do! The more intimidating thing is that the spa staff can go into any shower/locker room... that means women too. Here in Japan, there have been several occasions where women have been cleaning in bathrooms, but I was shocked when they were working in this part of this spa! It is crazy. The ofuro itself was amazingly comforting once you get past the fact that you are amongst dozens and dozens of other spa users. The facility had indoor baths of many different styles. There were jet pools, and high power jet pools to massage you. The baths were all extremely hot at 105 degrees fahrenheit. There was also a bath at only 60 degrees that chilled you in it's icy waters. I could barely stay in that pool for three minutes! There was a pool tinted deep pink due to it's hibiscus infusion, and even this totally unique bath, that had electrodes running through it. It was the wildest feeling. Your muscles felt like Jell-O! Those were the indoor pools. The facility went outside too... onto the roof! Outside there were steaming pools set up like natural rock baths, and even strong waterfalls to pound down on your back for a great massage. The outdoor facility also had a sauna room. I was amazed at how much was there! I would definitely go again, since I felt so refreshed and relaxed afterwards! Now I know why Japanese citizens love them. After using the baths for about an hour, the family met back downstairs. We had dinner at the restaurant, and ate in the tatami room. It was so comfortable. Dinner was tempura vegetables and seafood with dipping soba noodles. Delicious. We also got some soft serve black sesame ice cream! It was very good. The night was a great one, and we all went back home very happy and refreshed. The pictures are of the tatami room where we ate (Yurina is wearing the green shirt). The second is me with my host mother. I was brave enough to take pictures of toilets for you... but there was NO way that camera was going even close to the stairway leading upstairs, haha... Even for your educational purposes! I figured I could use this opportunity to introduce a picture of the ofuro at my house. In Japan, the ofuro room is completely separate to the bathroom. As you can see there is the stool and shower out side the bath where you clean yourself. The tub has the lid on it to keep the water very hot to soak in. The whole family shares the same bathwater, and then the next day, that water is used to wash clothes with. That is how the Japanese conserve water!

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Hi Christopher,
Your adventures just keep getting better and better. Time is just going by way to quickly. We can't wait for you to return to us but at the same time I know that a part of you will remain in Saga with your host family and new friends. Cherish the memories, they will last a lifetime.
See you in a few weeks,
Love Aunt Lorraine