Since I was at a hot spring resort on top of the mountain during the winter, the most logical thing to do is to experience the onsen. It’s not the first time I’ve gone into the pool, but I’ve never really written about how it was for me. So here it goes…
Taking a bath in hot spring water. This activity has been around in centuries and is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture. They take everything off (I really mean everything) and soak themselves in the water. It’s partly for stress relief and healing, partly for socializing. I was told that the idea is when everyone’s stripped down, everyone’s equal. Once you’ve experienced onsen together with someone, consider yourselves kamcheng. Something like that.
There are public and private/indoor and outdoor onsen, usually split for both genders.
Where can I find onsen?
Public baths (with normal hot water) are available everywhere in Japan, but onsen i.e. hot spring water with healing properties, are usually available at various resorts in the outskirts. Some people travel far just to experience onsen — like the people who were at Noboribetsu. See the top onsen in Japan by region.
There are some places offering onsen facilities in the middle of the city, too. Tapi kurang sikit feel compared to being in the countryside. See the top onsen in Tokyo.
If you’re not so keen on going all bare and particular about privacy, don’t worry! Some resorts offer private baths that can be reserved and paling awesome, rooms with open air private onsen baths (more expensive!). To get an idea of where to go to get the onsen of your choice, you can see the list of ryokans (traditional Japanese lodging) offering onsen baths here.
How do I bathe in an onsen?
Experiencing the onsen is a cultural thing, so it comes with several strict dos and don’ts that need to be observed, as a sign of respect. Before you dip into the onsen, here’s an idea of how you should do it
The best time to go (especially when you’re shy) is during dinner. Dinner buffet at Japanese resorts typically start at 6PM and it’s when everyone swarms the restaurant — the onsen will be close to empty! Don’t worry about your dinner, it’ll still be around when you’re done.
Leave your belongings. Wear a yukata and the slippers provided by the hotel. Also bring a towel from the hotel room to the onsen to dry yourself later.
Entering the public bath
This sounds petty… but make sure that you’re entering the right area — blue noren curtain for men’s entrance, red noren curtain for ladies’. By mistake, I entered into the men’s changing room area and saw an old man taking his clothes off -_-‘ I’m sure you wouldn’t want that, so please, look out for the signs!
The changing room
You’ll see the changing room. Get a piece of the courtesy towel, usually the size of a hand towel. Here’s where you take off your clothes and other belongings (including the towel from the hotel room) and place them inside the basket (some places have lockers for barang berharga, although I’d suggest keeping them in your room instead even when Japan has low theft rate).
The courtesy hand towel, tie it beneath your waist to cover your nether regions before entering the bathing area.
Entering the bathing area
Before soaking yourself in the onsen, you’ll need to shower first. There’ll be a stool where you can sit and get yourself showered. Cleanse body properly with the cleansers they have provided and rinse well. Dry yourself with the courtesy towel. After that, wet it with cold water and wring.
Enter the bath.
Soaking the hot spring
When you’re in the bath, place the courtesy towel on top of your head — some people get dizzy when they enter the hot water that the cold towel helps them feel comfortable. If you ever drop the towel into the bath, don’t wring it in the bath, but do it outside because to them, the bath will be tainted. Only you are allowed in.
While you’re soaking, don’t be kepoh. Be mindful, you’re in Japan! You’re supposed to sit, keep quiet and relax. Or reflect about life and be grateful about the things that you have. Something along those lines.
You’ll probably notice that the different pools have different temperature and color — it’s because they consist different types of hot spring. The Japanese are particular about the onsen that they go to because they’re particular of reaping the benefits from specific onsen (there are different types with different healing properties). Like the one I went to, it had 9 separate pools with different hot spring water. Obviously, I tried them all.
Ooh, go to the outdoor pool. That’s the bomb, especially during winter… when it’s snowing! Some places offer magnificent views.
Also… this will be the time when you might meet naked people in all shapes and sizes and ages. It can be “interesting” to accidentally see, but my advice is, lower your gaze ladies and gents! Concentrate on reflecting about life X)
Leaving the onsen
Once you’re done and feel as if you’ve enjoyed enough of the hot spring, go get yourself showered again. Wipe off water with the courtesy towel, go back to the changing room, dry yourself again and get your make up done.
The thing I love about the onsen is that they’re so thoughtful, they’ve prepared everything at your convenience. As soon as I got out I could measure myself on the electronic weighing scale (I find it fascinating), drink water, dry my hair with a turbo hairdryer and try out different kinds of lotions on different parts of the body. You can even bring back free samples!
It was good experience for me and I’m sure you’ll enjoy your me time, too.
To those who have tried it, feel free to share your experience!
This trip was sponsored by Hokkaido Tourism and the onsen experience was courtesy of Park Hotel Miyabitei. Thank you LIBUR for giving me the opportunity to explore Hokkaido. For the record, the words written on this post are entirely my own.