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Photo courtesy of http://jisforjapan.blogspot.com

What is Onsen?

Onsen is the Japanese word for hot spring. It is a term often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around these hot springs or sources of geothermally heated water which literally `spring up` in areas where volcanic activity is present. Japan, as one of being a very volcanically active country, is covered with them that were scattered along its length and breadth.

According to Preservation and Use of Hot Springs, Ministry of the Environment, there are more than 3,000 registered hot spring resorts in Japan and around 30,000 resort spas. They are fascinating places where people from Japan and overseas can all enjoy themselves. Japan’s hot spring resorts are ready to welcome everyone (locals and foreigner tourists) for a therapeutic experience.

Onsen contains many types of chemical ingredients. It has different types and depending on the type of Onsen, different therapeutic effects can be expected by bathing from it.  By definition, it must have at least one of around 20 elements like including iron, sulfur, radon, gypsum and metabolic acid and must be at 25 °C or warmer temperatures.

Different Onsen types include chloride, sodium bicarbonate saline, ferruginous, sulfur, carbon dioxide and radioactive springs. These springs had therapeutic effects on but not limited to cuts, burns, chronic skin disease, arteriosclerosis, gout, anemia, menstrual disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, joint pains, rheumatism and circulatory diseases.

Japan ancient history published that Onsen is used for purifying rituals in the Japanese religion “Shinto” and at the same time enjoyment for emperors. Other folklores had claimed that people gather around the onsen to hunt wild animals which will generally come to drink hot spring water to absorb minerals.

It cannot be denied that one of the Big Tourism attractions in Japan is their Onsen. Your trip to Japan won’t be that rewarding without the Onsen experience. The Japanese emphasized the virtues of “naked communication” for breaking down barriers and getting to know other people more whether a family member, loved ones, friends or strangers you just met in a relaxed and homey atmosphere.

Due to a large increase of tourists from other countries, their private onsen bathing tub (reserved onsen) is getting more popular but still they have their public onsen separate for male and female aside from the traditional mixed onsen for any gender (not so common these days).

My Onsen Experience

My trouble started when my Cebu Boss told our Japanese counterparts that she wanted to experience Onsen before going back to the Philippines. Our counterparts had agreed to visit one of the hot spring resorts over the weekend.

They were very excited about it, but I am not really as I am not a fan of onsen upon knowing that you must be totally naked while bathing. They invited me to come also. I was about to say no but out of respect to our managers, I said I will go with them. Anyway, I can stroll around the place while they are enjoying the Onsen.

While we were on the trip, my Cebu Boss had asked me if I am ready for the Onsen and I was shocked. I told her that I never said that I would try the Onsen and I said I really won’t. She said that our Japanese male counterparts (Senior Engineer and Senior Manager) had come just for me to have company on the Onsen. It was really a miscommunication!

My worries were heightened to a million level as I am not comfortable even wearing trunks in resorts, how much more being naked in front of my bosses and total strangers? I keep on thinking of alibi’s how to ditch the Onsen bath, but they already assumed that I am up for it! I was so restless until we arrived at the hostel in Ito. We stayed at K’s House, a refined hostel in a 100-year old building in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture.

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accommodation @ K’s House

After settling down, we headed to a nearby hot spring. I was so anxious about what’s going to happen. It’s like I’m submitting myself to be sexually harassed. LOL. But seriously, I had lizards (butterflies are too cute for the situation) on my stomach, that I just wished I had an invisible cloak so that I can disappear in an instant. I even hoped that I can catch fever really fast to have a valid alibi.

Of course, I could not say that my Cebu Boss just assumed that I wanted to try the Onsen too, it’s too disrespectful that they drove around 5 hours from Tokyo only to have NO as an answer from me. They came with us to accompany me in the first place! Komatta na! (I’m in trouble!).

We arrived at the Onsen resort and secured our valuables in the lockers. When we were heading to the dressing room, I was literally sweating a lot despite the place was air-conditioned. On the reception area before the dressing room, the staff reminded us of the do’s and don’ts, etc.

Don’ts:

  • Generally, no camera or camera phone is allowed inside the bathing area.
  • No towels are allowed on the bathing area; towels must be left on the sides.
  • Tattooed individuals are generally not allowed inside the bathing area (case to case)
  • It is a place for relaxation, not for cleaning. (Have a shower first on the shower area)
  • Follow the suggested maximum time on dipping/submerging yourself in the hot spring

Getting Naked is not that easy always 🙂

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Private Onsen. Credits to Marc VeraArt

My Cebu Boss had gone to the other side with my female colleagues. While my Japanese counterparts and I, headed for the male dressing room. The dressing room walls were mostly mirrors.

In the dressing room, it has a big towel and a small towel provided in each basket that you can use. The small towel has the size of a square-shaped face towel. I don’t know what to do in the dressing room (I’m so dumb at that moment), at the back of my mind I was thinking that the place was the undressing room, the naked room!

My counterparts immediately took off their clothes, got naked fast and even instructed me to place my clothes in one of the baskets. They don’t really care being naked in front of anybody. LOL. I waited for them to proceed to the shower area before getting naked myself. I was shocked when I was about to take off my clothes, my counterpart checked upon me as it took me almost forever to get naked. HAHAHA.

I came to my senses and scolded myself for being such a baby and a worrier. If they can do it, why can’t I? I didn’t look around, I didn’t think, I didn’t worry. I simply took off my clothes and grabbed the small towel and went outside to the shower area covering just a portion of me. (Sweating again).

The public bath area had few goers at that time. My manager noticed me getting out from the dressing room and went inside the shower area to assist me. He grabbed the small stool and got some soap and shampoo for me. WAAAA that awkward moment when your manager is naked in front of you and you are naked too! Culture differences are really challenging! 🙂 That moment was so uncomfortable for me, but not really for them. I must admit, I am not even comfortable staying naked in front of my loved ones sometimes. How much more to my boss? 🙂

After the quick shower, I joined them outside in the public bath. I was thinking again if I am going to cover my private parts with that cute towel again like what I did from the dressing room to the shower area. But upon observing them outside, they don’t even bother to cover anything with their hands. At this time, it’s not lizards inside my stomach but I can feel I had a hundred frogs jumping back and forth. I was so pissed off with myself with what I am about to do.

I slowly slid the glass door from the shower room to the public bath area leaving my small towel at the sides. What I did was, I just keep a thought in my mind this time, that these people do not know me at all. I don’t care if they will take a look at me walking naked. I don’t even look at my Japanese counterparts while I was walking towards the bathing area. After then, I quickly submerged myself to the waters not minding how hot it was! After few minutes of dipping in the hot waters of the spring, my body had adjusted to the water temperature and I felt a bit relaxed. We had small chit chats with my counterparts then. It was not really super awkward though as there were just a few of us in the bathing area.

My counterparts helped me feel comfortable at that awkward moment by always talking to me. That was the time when I really felt liberated with myself and seems my shyness went away. I was thinking, we are all equal here, everyone has nothing but those small towels on the sides. LOL. But it was really an amazing experience, it was a truly multi-sensory one! I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather be naked “when in public” but in Onsen.

My take home for that one of a kind experience was that, aside from it was therapeutic, I just found out that my greatest fear is not being in a close, dark spaces or from free falling (skydiving) but “being naked in front of people”. It was more challenging than spelunking, skydiving, deep sea diving, etc. Well at least for someone like me who is not really comfortable showing some “private skins” to anybody. hahaha 😀

After that Onsen experience, we went back to the hostel and cooked our dinner. Our counterparts wanted us to cook the famous Pinoy Adobo so we did. We had met also some tourists from other Asian countries. Had short talks with them and call it a night after dinner and games plus wine. We had the private Onsen at the hostel the next day. 🙂

We often say that wherever we’ll go, we need to adjust, adapt and live like they do. But sometimes, cultures may be a little too much for us to adapt quickly. It is not like an algebra assignment that can be done overnight. It’s a long process. It’s easier said than done sometimes. J But at the end of the day, I can proudly say that I conquered my greatest fear! 🙂

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Having fun @ K’s House

So, did I convinced you to try Onsen on your visit to Japan? Or the other way around?

But I really recommend it to everybody. Whether for the reason of conquering your fears of being naked in front of others haha, for relaxation, or for the sake of experiencing the Japanese culture yourself. After all, it’s really worth a try.

35 Replies to “Culture Alienation: My First Onsen Experience and why you should Experience it too at least once in your Lifetime

  1. Bwahahaha I don’t know what to say, after reading your blog post, this seemed to be I’m speechless that it got me a while to think what to comment. Everyone of us experiences that kind of awkward moment, if I were there I’ll surely be behaving in such what you did. Never got along I tried being unclad, with someone beside me or worst being in front of me, there is too much weird stuff in mind that looming overhead. I didn’t know Japanese culture holds this one not until I stop by on this article and read. Amazing!

    1. hahaha… Yes, they have this culture. Awkwardness to the highest level but its already there, might as well enjoy the moment and find the silver lining nalang jud ko. But I am really glad that I got to experience it and if I have a chance I will do it again. HAHAHA
      You should try it in one of your sponsored travels to Japan.. 🙂

  2. OMG HAHAHAHAH SORRY FOR LAUGHING T_T I can only imagine how awkward and frustrating it was, good thing they helped you not to feel awkward. My gooooooosh, I couldn’t imagine myself doing the same thing. Aaaahhhhh. Idk. Maybe one day? Idk really. Hahahahaha but really, omg. Haha!

    x, Kat of Nested Thoughts

  3. I prefer to take a bath alone. Are there any rooms where I can do that? hahaha. Relaxation for me is quite effective when I contemplate about Dark Matter and Dark Energy alone. 😀

  4. After seeing the first pic, I wanted to book a flight to Japan na. Damn, it was not yours. Can Cebu boss do a guest post about her Onsen experience? Kidding. I am kinda comfortable nude so I guess I would be a natural in those kind of settings. I would probably want to experience Onsen should I ever go to Japan.

    1. HAHAHHA… yeah the first pic is not mine. I can’t do that else I will be deported with a stamp on my passport “Pervert”..hahaha kidding.

      Good to know that you’re comfortable being naked lol.. Then everything will be normal for you there 🙂

  5. This is something I’d probably be down to try out. Looking at it from out culture, it is kinda ridiculous, but if I’m visiting the country, might as well immerse myself in the culture as much as possible. And besides, it’d make for a pretty cool story in the future. 🙂

  6. Nyahaha! I’m putting myself in your shoes while reading this and I just can’t help but laugh. Haha! It’s totally natural to react based on how culture influenced us but I guess that would still be an experience worth keeping. At least there’s something that you’ve tried out of your comfort zone. 🙂

  7. Okay I couldn’t stop laughing while reading this. HAHAHA sareee. Congrats though coz you survived! It’s a great cultural experience but as of now, I don’t think I can ever do something like this. Haha. I hope I won’t come off as sexist but I think it’s more awkward for ladies because you know it’s up and down of the body. Haha. Okay that’s it.

    You did great in retelling your story. Clap. Clap. 🙂

  8. Hahaha! I honestly can’t imagine being naked in front of other naked strangers. That will be so weird. It’s an awesome experience but I’m not sure if I will push through with it if I had the opportunity. Kudos to you for being so brave! 😉

  9. Interesting! Japan na Japan jud na experience ni da. Hugyaw. Kuyaw. Windang. Hahaha. Pero trying out something new and coming from a country nga so-called conservative, this will surely be a shock sa mga Pinoy pero excited kaayo motan-aw og anime featuring onsen experiences. Kutob ra tan-aw, if ikaw na mo-experience, daghan ang dili mopadayon kay mauwaw. Hehe. Glad you survived the challenge!

  10. wow!! those experiences were like hamazing. heheh i wanna try these things once I have the chance to visit Japan. Very soon Japan.

  11. this is in my bucket list… i heard they are not comfortable with foreigners going to ONSONENS… is this true or onesen-to-onsen basis? hehehe

    I’d like to bring my towel in though as I’m okay being naked in front of strangers

  12. Just imagining myself to an onsen. How awkward would it be but such things makes a longer lasting memories for sure…Have heared there are some in India too…but sure if its true

    1. True. The experience is really awkward for some and that includes me but that was one of the experiences that I can’t easily forget 🙂
      I’ve never been to India, not just yet, but I had read an article about onsen in India so maybe there are Onsens in India.

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  13. Haha! That was a fun experience. That’s the beauty and fun of immersing in another place’s culture.

    While we are a bit more liberated than most Filipinos, we would definitely be embarrassed if we have to go butt-naked with other people. But that embarrassment is all part of the fun! Hehehe!

    1. Yeah you’re damn right. Hahaha. After that embarrassing moment I realized na mura gyud ko bata na nag uwaw2x, maski medyo baga pa ko ug nawong or medyo liberated ma uwaw man gihapon kung maghubo na… Hahaha. But true, it’s all part of the fun gyud… Pero nauwaw bitaw gyud ko, pero share lang gihapon kos akong experience hahaha.

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