For those of you who are waiting for Tamago’s life and death update I can put you out of your misery. He did in fact survive and came back in one piece. As to the details of the trip, I feel that it would be wrong of me to describe it second hand. You’ll have to wait til he gets around to his own blog post.
I, however, am here on an entirely different mission. To share with you all the communal nude bathing experience.
Tamago and I recently took a lovely trip up to Kusatsu Onsen which is about a four hour bus trip away from Tokyo (see here for travel guide). It’s a village in the mountains that we had heard from various sources, mainly students, is a nice place to go if you want to experience onsen (hot springs).
Once we arrived in Kusatsu and located our ryokan – Tamago and I set out to get naked with some Japanese people in extremely hot water. But first we had to check this out:Also known as Yubatake, it’s a hot water field where water from the hot springs bubbles up and is diverted down these wooden channels in order to cool it. Then it’s distributed to the numerous public baths and onsens in Kusatsu. It’s smack dab in the middle of town, only a five minute walk from the bus station. There’s a free foot bath nearby which is a plus. Oh and it REAKS of sulphur but you get used to the smell quickly!
Not to be distracted, Tamago and I continued on to the Sainokawara National Park where the most famous outdoor onsen in Kusatsu is located. For obvious reasons we couldn’t take photos in the actual onsen (if you want to see what it looks like click here) but this is what the walk looked like:
In retrospect, you really only need to bring a towel with you. Or you could buy one at the onsen. Many Japanese people make do with a very small towel which they fold and put on their heads while they bathe.
Of course, it being Japan, there is etiquette that goes with onsen bathing. If you’re really interested this is a very cute guide. The overall rule is: never do anything that might remotely get the water dirty. This means that you can’t wear bathers in the bath, if you have long hair you should tie it up, and you should always always wash before you get in. Usually there is a shower or in the case of Sainokawara there is a basin with bowls for you to splash yourself. Basically just copy what everyone else does! If you do it wrong, the Japanese will very gently help guide you back to the correct way of doing things.
The bath itself was large and the water is about thigh height on a tall gaijin. You have to get in VERY slowly as the water is VERY hot. Once you’re in you can walk to a submerged bench and ease in up to bellybutton height. When you’re feeling ok with that, you can sit on the bottom of the bath up to your neck!
Needless to say, it is super hot and you can’t help but feel a bit like you’re a frog being slowly cooked. I had to dip in and out a couple of times becuase it’s soo hot. It did feel great though. The water is silky smooth and there’s probably nothing more peaceful than a hot bath amongst the trees. Surprisingly it’s very social and there were several groups of young women chatting and laughing but also plenty of others just sitting back and enjoying the serenity.
I know what you’re all thinking. Seriously? You bathed nude with a whole bunch of strangers? Yes. And yes it was confronting for my upper middle class Aussie/British upbringing. I’m really not comfortable with public nudity but the cliche is true. It’s very liberating and if everyone else is doing it, it’s not so weird. Once you’ve undressed there’s no turning back! And the plus side is that even in Japan, land of the size 6 woman, there is always someone who has more wobbly bits than you, and who cares less about them than you do. Excellent.
One of the best experiences I’ve had so far in Japan. Hands down.
Onsen: highly recommended