What is so special about a hot bath, Onsen, in Japan? Hot spring baths are cultural icons of Japan. The local onsen is similar to the local pub in Ireland. The difference being instead of at the end of the day chatting over a pint or 2, the Japanese talk as they soak and let the warm waters rinse away their daily stress. So any 88 Temple or Kumano Kodo pilgrim, or any tourist for that matter should visit at least one Onsen. It’s a few years since my visit to Japan and I long to go back for many reasons but especially those soothing hot soaks.
Almost always there will be a hot bath available at ryokans and minshukus(small often family run inns). These are nice but sometimes small and usually just hot tap water. The daily ritual of a hot soak after a long, hot or wet 25-35K walking day was a highlight of my Japan pilgrimage. To drop down into the soothing hot water and letting it wrap your body in its healing power was rejuvenating and invigorating. After your hot bath you don a Japanese bath robe, yukata, which I found only heightened the sense of relaxation and the overall rejuvenating experience.
A true onsen will have natural hot spring mineral laden water with greater healing and recuperating benefits Sometimes you may have private access but typically they are public. If you have a modest nature be aware that proper etiquette requires you to enter naked. If its any comfort at least bathers are segregated by sex. Frankly, after partaking of many hot springs I can’t imagine having to wear something. Not only is it more comfortable but there is a nice feeling of “being free”. You will also see young kids in there with one of their parents. It’s a good lesson to not be so hung up on our bodies.
Here are some other of the rules:
-Wash yourself clean before you bath.. Its a little weird to get used to but you do this sitting on little stools.
-toiletries are provided
-Do not wear any piece of clothing in the bath, not even a bath towel to cover up. You can take the small towel with you but it must not go into the water. Put it on the side or drape it on your head.
-The baths are for soaking. Don’t scrub yourself in the bath.
-It’s polite to tie up your long hair
Many of the onsens have different temperature baths; hot, very hot, and cold. I found going back and forth extremely invigorating and healing, adhering to naturopathic principles.
Here are a few of my favorite on the 88 Temple and Kumano Kodo. Though going through my daily journal, there was not a hot bath that wasn’t wonderful.
Ryokan Mima next to Temple 37.