So there I was standing completely naked with four Japanese women holding a towel just slightly bigger than a hand towel. Two of the women were our friends Kayoko and Michiko. Apryl wasn’t able to get in the onsen since pregnant women are not supposed to soak in such hot temperatures. (Although Japanese women still frequent onsens and eat lots of sushi when they are pregnant.) I was kind of glad Apryl wasn’t in there because I would be more inclined to be awkward or try to crack an unfunny joke.
When we entered the building we first came to a vending type machine. You put in your money and choose how long you will be staying at the onsen. Since it was late in the evening we chose the least amount of time, which was three hours. We then took off our shoes, put them in a locker and slipped on slippers that were provided. Kayoko, Michiko, Apryl, Edgar, Chris and I made our way to the counter where we got our tickets stamped and could buy towels. Kayoko asked me if I wanted a big or small towel. Knowing that I want to cover as much of myself as possible I purchased the big towel (about half the size of a normal bath towel). Then I noticed everyone else bought both the small and the big. I was then told that the big towel doesn’t leave the locker room and is only to dry off afterwards. If I didn’t get a small towel then I am walking into the onsen with nada. Oh boy… get me a small towel.
The building had a mini convenience store at the front, massage rooms, massage chairs and a large room with a TV and family activities. Some families spend a whole day here getting in and out of the onsen, eating, relaxing and spending time with each other. We dropped off Apryl at a massage chair and I told Chris to have fun before following Kayoko and Michiko into the women’s locker room.
Looking at my pint size towel I asked Kayoko what I was supposed to cover. She said it was up to me. If you have a tattoo you are not allowed in the onsens. Tattoos are signs of the mafia and are not looked upon in a positive way. (Sidenote: I find this fascinating. Tattoos are becoming more popular in certain sections on the US while Japanese are still very anti-tattoo.) Since I do have a tattoo we chose a public onsen where the owners wouldn’t be checking in on the guests frequently. Mine is also small enough to cover with my hand. So just imagine one hand covering my back right hip and the other trying to use a hand towel to cover my private bits. It could have been quite awkward but I was there for the true experience not to be close minded or too western.
We enter the onsen room. The hot spring is directly in front of me. It is round, tiled and a large window shows the beautiful skyline outside. To my right are several showerheads. We head over and find empty shower spots and grab a stool. Each showerhead was detachable, had shampoo and body wash and a large bowl. We spent several minutes washing ourselves from head to toe. At first I started to think about all the other women that had sat on this little stool that day but then pushed any thoughts out of my head that would taint my experience. I wasn’t sure what to do with the bowl but then realized that it you could fill it up with water and use it to dump on yourself to rinse off. It is a way of conserving water. After we were nice and clean we headed towards the onsen. Once I got in the hot water I took my small towel and place it on my head like everyone else. It was extremely relaxing and peaceful. There was a fountain in the middle that was very soothing to stare at. I sat there thinking, “who would have thought I would be hanging out in a natural hot spring, naked with my Japanese friends overlooking a gorgeous city.” All ages were in the onsen. This is a natural expereince that starts at such a young age so it isn’t an awkward or strange experience. I really like this way of thinking. Makes me dread the judgmental and self-conscious ways of the states. But then again, I can use this experience to help guide my life moving forward and something I can instill in our children.
After awhile we were all steaming hot so we decided to head back into the locker room to get dressed. My onsen experience was a success. Both liberating and educating. Chris enjoyed his experience on the male side too. Of course he had a few jokes when we saw each other but he feels the same way I do.
I wish everyone could teleport into different situations by themselves. Learning to adapt and accept differences is what helps us grow as individuals. And if no one is there to complain to, or be awkward with, you are forced into acceptance and you may very well like it. Or in my case… love it. Every time I eat something new (like chicken hearts… yeah. That’s another story) I wish my mom was there to learn how to make it for all our neighbors (not the chicken hearts… once was enough). Or when we go to a temple I wish my dad was there to tell me what he thinks. Each time we are driving down crazy narrow roads that go straight up and down, weaving between cars and houses (on the left side of the road) I think about my Uncle Ted and can see him taking it on as a challenge. But until I can get everyone over here or on a plane to another adventure I will just have to settle for showing it to them through my eyes. And I just hope that maybe you can look at each day as a day to understand something or someone differently. This is a big, big world but there is only one of you and you’ve been given one life. Love everyone, experience everything and be happy.
Now in the day before the onsen experience we hopped in the Honda van and headed North to see Mount Fuji! Only… the snow and fog kept us from actually seeing the enormous mountain. But that didn’t stop us from having a great day!
Once we walked out of a store we were standing there discussing what to do next. Ironically we were standing at a tour bus stop. A bus pulled up and we asked how much then hopped on the bus. We had no idea where it was going. Thankfully Michiko and Kayoko were with us so they could translate.