JAPAN’S MOST POPULAR HOT SPRINGS
With its volcanic potential, Japan has over 2,000 hot springs – onsens (温泉). Public baths known as sentō (銭湯) are built near them. However, those are not regular geothermal spas. The water coming from the springs comes down with a plethora of minerals and elements and reaches even 90°C. Onsens play a very important role in Japanese culture, their diversity and accompanying customs startling.
Savoir-vivre in Japanese hot sprigs
The OYAKATA Master would definitely stir no sensation in an onsen, knowing the ritual. Foreigners, often called Gaijins, are always looked at by the Japanese with concern as they are not entirely aware how to behave. To avoid offending the local people, make sure to learn the rules of the sentō savoir-vivre.
Take off your shoes before entering the changing room. Some onsens do not have the English symbol for women’s and men’s bath. So keep in mind that 女 is for women and 男 is for men. As the next step, proceed to the showers completely naked, only with a towel in your hand. Thoroughly wash your body. The older you are, the longer the cleaning. A woman with long hair should tie it to avoid its contact with water.
Once all the prior duties are satisfied, you may enjoy the hot bath. Still, remember about proper conduct. The OYAKATA Mater has noticed that this is rare in Poland but in Japan you may bathe only stark naked so you can forget about any bathing suits. Baths are places of relaxation and contemplation. You are allowed to talk but loud antics, splashing and swimming is undesired. It is also in bad taste to stare at the naked bodies of others. Furthermore, having visible tattoos disqualifies you from the ritual. This brings associations with members of the world’s largest mob – Yakuza.
To avoid any onsen faux-pas, watch the Japanese and follow suit. You don’t need to shower after the bath but you have to dry your body completely before going back to the changing room.
Naked communication in Japan – hadaka no tsukiai
Only group hot baths can tame the clearly hierarchical nature of the Japanese. In Shinto and Buddhist teachings, they are connected with cleansing and blessing. This is when various barriers disappear, and the class and financial status loses its significance. Hence the ‘naked communication’ (裸 の 付 き 合 い – hadaka no tsukiai), where the discussion is pure and honest. Nudity leaves man bare and allows him to truly express himself. The full focus on the conversation helps settle disputes, make allies, negotiate and do business.
The benefits from group baths did not remain unnoticed by Japanese companies and corporations. The rituals for coworkers are immensely popular in the Country of Cherry Blossoms. Colleagues take group baths. This way managers establish better connections, communicate naturally and get rid of mutual grudges.
Japan’s oldest spa – Dōgo Onsen
The Dōgo Onsen spa (道後温泉) in Matsuyama is the oldest hot spring in Japan. Its history dates back as many as 3,000 years. Inside the wooden complex built in 1893, you may stroll along the winding corridors, participate in tea ceremonies or admire historical exhibitions. Anyone can afford the place. It has 4 levels of baths, from 400 to 1500 yens. The Matsuyama hot spring also has its film story. Its image was used in the popular Japanese anime “Spirited Away.” Furthermore, it has the Yushinden bath, used by the imperial family. Although you should not count on taking a bath with the ruler, you may visit the room.
Bathing in volcanic sand – onsen in Ibusuki
Hot springs are not enough? The onsen in Ibuski (指宿温泉) offers a dip in hot volcanic sand. All this because of the groundwater that heats the surface. The ceremony participants put on yukatas (a light kimono) and are buried in the black volcano sand up to their necks. Such treatments are valued in particular by women who wish to improve their skin. The beautifying effects are allegedly possible due to the calcium ions and metasilicic acid contained in the sand. Additionally, scientists from the Kagoshima University School of Medicine conducted research showing that inhaling the vapour form the sand improves blood circulation and cardiac output 4 times more than hot spring baths.
Bathing with monkeys in Kourakukan Onsen
The Japanese Jigokudani park (地獄谷) is famous for the presence of numerous macaques. They can be encountered in the mountains and they are the main tourist attraction of the area. When winter comes, the monkeys come down to the areas of the nearby resorts, to the hot springs, to find shelter from the cold. Many onsens where the animals bathe can be find along the mountain trails. Moreover, there are daredevils in the Kourakukan (後楽館) hotel who cannot say no to a water treatment in the company of the primates.
Hakone hot springs – escape for people from Tokyo
Hakone（箱根）at the shore of the Ashi lake is a place with onsens that offers an incredible view of the Mount Fuji volcano. You can either choose standard-price baths or spend your time in luxury geothermal hotels that also offer wine or coffee bathing. Hakone is just one hour away from Tokyo so it is a destination for many inhabitants of the metropolis who want to flee from the city buzz.
7 hot springs and prophecies – the village of Kinosaki
Kinosaki （城崎）is known as the village of onsens. It has 7 immensely popular hot springs where you can find comprehensive relaxation. Each of them offers something special.
1. Mandara-yu（まんだら湯） – brings good luck in business and farming.
2. Goshono-yu（御所の湯）– helps find a loved one and provides protection against fire.
3. Satono-Yu（さとの湯）– the largest local bathing spot with a sauna (kriokomora).
4. Yanagi-yu （柳湯）– brings good luck in terms of birth of healthy children.
5. Jizou-yu （地蔵湯）– brings safety and prosperity to the family.
6. Ichino-yu（一の湯) – guarantees success at school and a good journey.
7. Kouno-yu （鴻の湯）– guarantees longevity and happy marriage.
Japan’s top hot springs in Kusatsu
The Kusatsu onsen (草津温泉) unvaryingly occupies the top spots in the rankings of the best Japanese onsens. The water comes right from the Shirane mountain and its has excellent reputation. It all started when a German doctor Erwin von Bälz served in the imperial court and prescribed baths in those specific hot springs as treatment. The water from Shirane contains calcium chloride, aluminium sulphate and sulphur. Therapy in the Kusatsu onsen mitigates neuralgia, improves the skin condition, alleviates muscle pains, cleanses, and kills fungi and bacteria. The population of Kusatsu is just 7,000 people but due to its landscape and therapeutic values, it annually attracts about 3 million tourists. Proceeds from tourism represents about 90% of its total income.
Onsens – the secret of Japanese longevity and economic success
The average life span of the Japanese is over 85 years. Additionally, the world’s oldest people, whether dead or alive, are mostly Japanese (about 115). Hot springs definitely contribute to such longevity. They have a plethora of therapeutic properties which help people stay healthy and in good shape. Furthermore, the relaxing and mentally purifying nature supports regeneration of the mind. The atmosphere is conducive to focused and unbiased talks. This helps make wise decisions and beneficial bids. The dipping ritual may be one of the many elements that made this small country the world’s third most powerful economy.