Today I was invited to go to an onsen with the Kais' relatives, the Ootsukas, which is Takuji's family. Okay... so in terms of America, yes it is weird to attend a public bathing facility with friends, but that is just because of the nudity factor. In Japan it is totally common, and even a highly practiced form of gathering! It is a big social activity. As a matter of fact, many groups of teens from various sports teams attend the public baths after games and such. I don’t think I could ever see that forming as a hang-out activity for American teens. Today though, we were going to a REAL onsen, which is filtered with natural spring water from the mountains. It is said to be very healthy due to its minerals. (I got to wear a nice latex glove, secured tightly with velcro straps to keep my hand dry. Well... I guess I was more clothed than other people then!) We drove up from sea level, to the winding roads in the mountains. The roads were narrow, and much like those at the Kasegawa viewing post a while back. We first stopped for dinner at a restaurant that the Ootsuka family highly recommended. It was so cool because it viewed all of the bamboo and pine forests on the mountains through the windows. This traditional restaurant had floor seating and low tables which I still find very nostalgic. The specialty there was soba noodles. We all ordered cold soba with dipping sauce, and tempura. Wow, what a day! All my Japanese favorites... Sushi, Soba, Tempura!! It was a very neat experience. After dinner we drove a little higher, but then actually went down just a little. In contrast to the other onsen that I visited last week, which required you to go up to enter the spa area, this natural onsen went down. You first entered the building, and after that, went down to a walkout basement where all the baths were. This may seem very cliché on my part, but this onsen was very nice simply for the fact that it was, well... natural. It was set up with lots of bamboo, wood, and rocks, in a very tranquil mountainous area that was beautiful especially at night. It was different than the, "man-made" onsen because it didn’t have all of the special pools. It was just hot, warm, or cold water. Of course at this onsen the baths were man made, but the water is not artificially pumped in. That is the main difference in addition to its location and decor, but it was the more natural feeling of the place that made the biggest difference. From both of my experiences, I have to say that if you ever go to Japan, make sure you visit an onsen. It is very cultural, as well as relaxing. It was very generous of the Ootsukas to let me join them, and I had a great night. Since it was a Thursday, the facility was much emptier than last Saturday’s experience! The pictures are of Takuji and me sitting in the restaurant, the tatami room in the facility, and finally Takuji, his sister Tomo-chan, and me outside this onsen.