Friday, May 19, 2006

warming up to the onsen

My very first experience at the onsen was awkward to say the least. The only time I bared my body to a stranger when I went for my massage about 2 years back. That wasn't so bad coz there's only the masseuse and you.

The Japanese public bath is usually outdoors and use naturally heated hot water extracted from a natural volcanic spring. The one I went to last night, even though it was a man-made one, was really tastefully done. Imagine zen Japanese aesthetics, dim warm lights and landscaping in the garden as you walk in. You start to get relaxed and look forward to the experience.

walking down the corridor, you see massage chairs on your left and the massage parlour on your right

I went with a Malaysian senior who taught me how to get myself accustomed to the rituals of the public bath. We had to first undress and put our clothes in the locker. Then head to the public bathroom, like those you've probably seen in books, and wash ourselves clean. It's considered rude to just dip your body in the baths without bathing first.

We sat on short stools facing a miror each. They have a shower head and tap with a temperature gauge. We set it to about 35degC to get our bodies acclimatized to the hot water after that. There are even bottles of 'rinse shampoo' and 'body shampoo' for you to use. But you can always buy these, and other toiletries at the vending machines outside. In fact, you can get almost anything in vending machines, but that will be another story.

you can buy toiletries and anything you need for the ultimate onsen experience just before you enter the baths

After getting ourselves clean, we headed to the outdoor area where they have small pools in various themes. We tried the well-like pool first. It felt like the hot water just washes away the stress and tension in the body. I could've stayed there longer if not for the heat.

We also tried the hot stones. It's like lying down on your back on the hot pavement with a small layer of water running underneath, while exposing your body to the open air. At first I thought the stones were going to burn off the fats off my butt, but later as I got more comfortable with the heat, I began to feel sleepy. Another friend commented that it's great just lying down there during winter when the snow falls on your body. Maybe I'll get to try that in winter in Urasa!

there's even a dining area should you get hungry after the pampering session

We ended with the jacuzzi back inside. Having the jet of water pushing against the body was like having an indirect massage. At the end of it, I almost melted away in the onsen. It was just a wonderful experience. Too bad I can't bring it back to Malaysia.

It's beginning to get a little warmer as summer approaches. I'd better go for more onsens as much as I can before then.

feeling all soft and relaxed, didn't feel like cyling back uphill to my apartment!

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