Onsen: An acceptable form of social bathing

By Angela Perrone

The temperature is dropping and once again it’s the time of year to get naked with your friends and the obaachans or ojiichans in your town, village, island etc…!

If you are thinking about going to an onsen, now is the best time to start. An onsen is essentially a “hot spring,” but can be anything from a natural hot spring to an ofuro: an extremely nice sauna-meets-hot tub experience.

Here are a couple of tips before you head out to the locker room:

1. Most places will provide “towels”. WARNING: By towel, I mean a long piece of material about the length of  4 wash cloths, which you can “hide” yourself behind as you walk through the onsen area. Note: If you are anything close to being the size of an average person, this towel will conceal only a rather small portion of you. For more coverage, it is wise to bring your own towel. They usually have regular-sized towels also, but these are meant for post onsen-ing, and not as a form of protection from prying eyes in the bathing area itself.

2. Something to look out for at some nicer ryokans with onsen: they will provide you with a yukata. WARNING: Do not put the yukata in or near the water. Should it get wet, the hotel people may yell at you, especially if you leave it half wrung-out in the sink. (I learned this through experience).

A few onsen you might like to try, some comprising a joint onsen-hotel experience:

HIROSHIMA

Just a short car ride from the entrance to Miyajima is the Teien No Yado Sekitei (庭園の宿石亭) onsen. It’s a bit pricey (about ¥26400+ for one night), but it offers a gorgeous view.

About an hour outside of Hiroshima City you can (hopefully) find the Tawara Onsen (田原温泉). It is only about ¥10000 for a night, and is located in what seems to be a cute inaka area.

For those of you who like to ski, you might want to look into the Megahira Onsen (女鹿平温泉), a ski resort and onsen, in Hatsukaichi. One night bed and onsen ranges from ¥10000 to ¥20000. To use just the onsen, you can pay less than ¥1000 for the day.

In Takehara there is the Yusaka Onsen (湯坂温泉) surrounded by a forest. You can stay over night for under ¥20,000.

Onomichi offers the Onomichi Furiai No Sato (尾道ふりあいの里). Adults are ¥800.

In Fukuyama/Kannabe, there is an onsen right next to Fuji Grand and another one a little further down the road with a giant sign that says Oyu (お湯). Both are less than ¥1000.

OUTSIDE HIROSHIMA

In Okayama Prefecture, look into the Seto Ohashi Onsen (瀬戸大橋温泉) and the Washyuu Onsen (鷲羽温泉), both of which are located near Kurashiki. Ehime Prefecture, which leads into the top of Shikoku, is known for Dougo Onsen (道後温泉) in Matsuyama.

Up near Tokyo is an area called Hakone, which is famous for its hot springs. If you are interested in Hakone, it features an endless supply of onsen, and is a really beautiful place to visit.

In Odaiba, located in Tokyo Bay, there is the Ooedo Onsen (大江戸温泉), which might be considered an onsen theme park. Clothes may be required in some areas.

GIVE ME CLOTHES!

If being naked with a lot of people isn’t your thing, check out Sensuijima, an island just off the village of Tomonoura (a 30-minute bus-ride from Fukuyama). At this onsen/spa, you get to wear shorts and a polo shirt (provided) while you go in and out of the onsen, ocean and small rooms that resemble a sauna/oven. Prices start from around 2500 yen and the invigorating experience is well worth it. What’s more: you’re not naked! For most of the experience, anyway.

For more information check out http://onsen.mapple.net or 温泉&やど, a magazine specializing in onsen around the country.