Comfortably welcoming and ever steamy. Hot and full of healing minerals. Soak away stress and worry. Sound good? Then Japan’s Onsen, or natural hot springs, await you.
“Seek not the paths of the ancients;
Seek that which the ancients sought.”
Bathing in Japanese Onsen is a healing tradition that goes back thousands of years. Thought to cure most maladies and found throughout the volcanically active islands of Japan, it is a tradition shared by all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and classes.
You can find them in major cities, along beautiful rivers, in rural parts of the countryside, on islands, by the ocean and even filled with snow monkeys in the mountains. Due to the Japanese affinity with beauty, elegance and design it’s not hard to imagine how each location will have its own unique experience and benefits for you to enjoy.
Imagine soaking in an ocean side outdoor hot spring. The waves crashing below you as you look out, through the steam and into the blue of the ocean. Like that? Then, Jinata Onsen is for you.
Perhaps you’re a history buff and you prefer to bathe in the mystical and historical waters of Dogo-Onsen. Or maybe you really just want to find those bathing snow monkeys and go skiing or snowboarding and then ease your mind and body? Then Yudanaka or Shibu onsens are perfect for you.
Experiencing an Onsen is choosing to literally immerse yourself in Japanese culture.
Though, I should mention, it is traditionally done in the nude… But don’t worry! Every Onsen bath house has different rules so just make sure you check. Still, public nudity in Japan? Not quite what you were expecting right? Well, here are some reasons.
The first is that Onsens are places of healing and relaxation. Everyone is literally required to “cleanse” themselves before entering the water. There are places for this and different traditions so be sure to read up on your chosen Onsen. Bringing fabric or anything else will not just be looked down upon, it will likely be forbidden.
The second is what the Japanese call the virtues of “naked communion”, or hadaka no tsukiai, , for dissolving social and internal barriers. Remember that you will still find strict codes of hierarchy in Japan and as you can imagine, stripping down puts everyone on equal grounds. There is also a very humanizing affect that will help you dissolve anybody issues that you may have with yourself.
If nudity isn’t your thing but soaking in the magical waters mentioned above sounds amazing you’ll also be able to find numerous spas that offer Sento, a less traditional form of Onsen. The main difference is really that bath houses who wish to call themselves Onsen have to comply with strict government regulations and must use naturally mineral rich hot spring water.
Visiting an Onsen in Japan is truly an amazing experience that I recommend everyone try should they be blessed with the opportunity to visit Japan. Open yourself up to trying something new in a beautiful place and discover for yourself the healing power of the Japanese Onsen.