Friday, April 4, 2014

Japan Trip Part VI: The Onsen

There are few things as Japanese as hot springs. Sure, there are plenty of places where you can find hot springs outside of Japan, but Japan is such a volcanically active place that hot springs are pretty much everywhere. They're so numerous and popular that they've become a part of the culture.

Given that, we spent most of our first day at a public bath house: the Yokohama Onsen.

We had hoped to spend the first day going to both the onsen and the Pokemon Center, but when we got to the onsen we learned that the private rooms were booked until late in the afternoon. We went ahead and booked a private room for four hours that evening, but we had to stay there the entire time in order to keep our reservation. So, we decided to visit the Pokemon Center another time and instead just spend the whole day at the public bath.

Now, to be clear, a private room is not necessary. There were large, public rooms for each gender available if we wanted. However, most of us were shy Americans hesitant to spend time naked in front of strangers, much less each other.

Laura was fine with being naked, but there's a common rule at onsens that attendees are not allowed to have tattoos, since that indicates a yakuza member. Laura has a few tattoos and, though we suspected they wouldn't care about her since she's obviously a foreigner, we didn't want to take that chance.

So, we hung out in the building for a few hours while waiting to take turns in the private bath.

There was plenty to do in the 7-story building, though, so we were hardly bored.

The first thing we did was remove our shoes and get changed into our rental garments. Everyone in the building wore something that denoted their role in the building. There were two types of general uniforms for guests: the one-piece yukata (a light summer robe, tied around the waist with a sash) or the two piece shirt/pants combo for people uncomfortable with the yukata, I'm guessing. Men had only one option for the pattern on their yukata, but women had a nice selection.

The seventh floor was the main floor, with the gift shop, the cash registers, the changing rooms, and the public baths. Since none of us were going into the bath area, though, we all moved to the next floor up once we were all changed.

We each had a locker key we wore around with us, which acted as both access to our locker, of course, as well as our account. There was plenty to buy in the place: food, massage services, snacks, etc. Rather than carrying around wallets in our bath robes, there was a bar code on our locker key which people scanned any time we bought something. We would then pay for everything on our way out. It was very convenient.

The eight floor was an arcade which took up almost the entire floor. This was our first Japanese arcade, so we all looked around for a while. There were lots of crane games, photo booths, and several interesting arcade cabinets for games we'll probably never see in the US.

Also on this floor were a kids' play area as well as a manga reading section which, while nice, none of us took advantage of since none of us know Japanese.

There was also a stairway that led to the roof. It was windy out there and cold, but it was a great view of the city. Moreover, there was what looked like a shallow stream around the roof. This was the foot bath: you simply sit on the side and put your bare feet into the water. Our group hung out up there for a while, chatting and admiring Fuji-san in the distance until the cold wind finally convinced us to leave.

Two things we should have noted, in hindsight: first, there were jackets available on the way up, which would have helped against the wind. Second, there was a place where we were supposed to wash our feet before using the foot bath. Oops.

Anyway, on the sixth floor there were places to chat and eat, including a buffet-style area and a sit-down restaurant. We went tot he sit-down place and hung out a while, trying drinks. Most of us weren't hungry yet, though later we went back individually to get food. Laura and I tried authentic ramen, and it was pretty good.

The fourth floor contained the Relaxation Room: a room filled with reclining chairs, each with its own TV. The chairs were very comfortable, and the speakers were located in the headrest so that each person could hear their own TV and nobody else's without having to wear headphones. It was very relaxing, and I think everybody ended up taking a nap in there for a while.

The floors below included some hotel rooms, I believe, as well as massage places, which none of us wanted to spend money on.

When the time came, we each went, two at a time, into the private bath. Each group got ~45 minutes in there before allowing the next group in.

The private bath included an outer room where you stored your things and the actual bath room which had a small balcony looking over the bay. There was a place to shower (since you're supposed to clean yourself before entering the bath) and the tub itself. The tub was basically a deep cauldron, with a constant stream of hot water pouring in and out of it. It was heavenly, like a much cleaner hot tub. In the end, though, we were thankful for the window, since the room was naturally incredibly steamy.

I'd say, more than anything else I did in Japan, I'd recommend the Yokohama Onsen to everybody. It was an incredibly relaxing experience. However, I'd recommend going there either at the middle or end of your trip, since that relaxation helps a lot to relieve the aches you'll get from walking everywhere in Japan. We would have done that ourselves, but due to sheduling conflicts that first day was pretty much our only opportunity to enjoy time at an onsen.

No comments:

Post a Comment