The 温泉（おんせん) is a unique cultural experience in Japan. While it may be a little intimidating for first timers, once you get used to it, it may quickly become an addiction (in a good way, of course!). This is the place where you can feel relaxed, refreshed and clean. For most visitors, dipping into the 温泉 is one of their highlights in Japan and I strongly advise you guys give this a try, because it felt SOOOOOOO DAMN GOOD!!
A few days ago, I went to 積翠寺温泉,要害 along with a few international and two Japanese buddies. It was pretty tiring to get to the 温泉 as we had to walk up the hills from 武田通り, since there was no bus running at the time. Paid ７００円 (around AU$7.10) and off we go to the hot spring itself.
Taking the dip
*WARNING* If you have a tattoo, even if its a pretty and/or small one, you will most likely not be able to dip into the bath as it is often associates with the yakuza or gangsters. Be respectful of whatever the establishment request.
I’ll briefly explain what to do in the 温泉. Before coming to any 温泉, you should bring your own towels (one big and one small), and possibly shampoos and soap (unless the 温泉 provides them). Seriously, do you want to use a towel that so many people use to wipe their body? If nope, just bring your own!
There are change rooms which contain lockers or baskets to put your clothes and belongings in. Here, you will take off all your clothes. And when I mean ALL, I mean to the point where you are bare NAKED! When you are ready, bring your small towel as this will be important.
HORRAY! You are inside the 温泉, filled with steam!! But don’t go in immediately as that is considered socially unacceptable. You should be able to see shower heads or bowels which you can use to wash. DO THIS BEFORE DIPPING IN THE HOT SPRING! Most of the Japanese baths will have stools so that you can sit on and to the washing.
You done washing? Good. Now quickly dry yourself using the towel you just brought in, and then slowly dip yourself into the bath. Things to keep in mind here! The towel is used for modesty, usually when moving in and out of the bath. For guys, cover your genitals, while ladies use both hands to cover the breast and genitals. When you’re in the bath, don’t dip your towels into the waters as it is generally unclean. Normally, you can simply place your towel off to the side of the water, or place it on top of your head.
Once you are done with the bath, wipe off any excessive waters and sweat as much as possible before going back to the change rooms. You will be dehydrated from the bath, so take this time to refresh yourself with a drink or something.
Even though this was my very first experience, I didn’t really feel awkward or shy about being naked with a few group of guys. The waters felt amazing and from the bath, you can get a great view of Kofu! Most Japanese people will refer to the virtues of 裸の付き合い（はだかのつきあい、naked communion), where they break down barriers and get to know the people in a very relaxed atmosphere. Had a really good chat with the buddies for a solid hour of being in the bath and I’m glad that I was able to accept this virtue with no hesitation. Looks like I’ll be going to the 温泉 quite often during my time here in Japan! HEHEHE
If you are going to an 温泉 for the first time, don’t be shy and try to be open to being naked in a public space. Nobody will judge on how you look! As a quote from Thermae Romae (a manga adapted to a movie which you should definitely check out!) goes, “When in Rome, do like the Romans do.” Adopt this mentality, and you’ll have nothing to worry about! Enjoy the bath! 😀