I had been told about the onsens before I came, but never really understood what they were all about, and had some men’s sauna type club in my head. So when my mums friend offered to take us and show us the ropes, we were well up for it. Though neither rachel or I were shy of nudity, it was strange to think in half an hour, the three of us and her 19year old daughter would all be walking around, kit off.
Entering it was much like a private gym. A restaurant, vending machines with snacks and ice creams. Then as we turned things got crazy again. A room full of fat boy chairs, each with their own tv. Bookcases of dvds to choose from. The room was filled with people in their robes chilling out, relaxing. As we kept walking to the changing rooms, we passed a massage parlour. Coco explained how people sometimes would come and spend the day here; steam room, hot spring, food, movie and so on. We stripped down and filled our lockers, left only with a small square towel equivalent to a face flannel. To everyone else this was all very normal. They would grow up coming here with their parents, just like going to the swimming pool.
Laid out in front of us we’re two rows of open boothed vanity mirrors. Sat on low stalls were long slender backs of clear fair skin. Their slight curves delicately balanced as they reached up to run their hands through their long dark hair. Water showering upon them.
Every unit, had a hand held shower hose, and three large pumps of high quality fragrant shampoo, conditioner and shower cream. Each women would sit on their stall and slowly wash themselves. Taking their time and enjoying the ritual. It was a strange experience to sit their naked, to be publicly sat in front of the mirror watching yourself wash. Intimate and relaxing, apposed to the shower rush we would have in such a space at home. The idea was that you took your time to cleanse yourself before sharing the water with others. It was a sign of respect and therefore done thoroughly.
Once clean, you would place the little square on top of your head, balancing it their in case you need it later. As for the pools. So many opinions, a cherry blossom infused spring, a normal hot spring and cold bath. A shallow pool, maybe a few inches to lie in and rest your head on the wooden block. A jacuzzi with chairs inside to lie back on outside looking to Mount Fuji. Deck chairs to just lie naked under the starts and feel the fresh air. Back inside a steam room, equipped with a tv to sit and watch the latest episode of a Japanese soap. Then finally the steam room, again tv, but also buckets of sea salt to scrub on you and let melt in the water. A full spa experience for sure!