The plan for my first full day here was a visit to the local onsen. If you haven:t heard the term before, a Japanese onsen is a hot springs spa. Basically they are a place where you can soak in hot mineral water. They are usually divided into two sections, one for men, one for women. And they come in varying style from very simple to quite elaborate. The one in the neighboring town to Shoko is quite large and offers many different spa services as well as food and drink. Here's a link ... http://www.utanoyu.com/
We made sure to get the first shuttle bus that left at 10 AM. Yes, that's right. A shuttle bus to the onsen. And it was full. The first thing you do on arrival is put your shoes in a (free) locker. Then you check in and tell them what kind of services you want for the day. Hot springs? hot rocks? massage? foot reflexology? You get a color coded plastic chip to indicate what you've signed up for and a wrist band with a bar code.
With our orange and blue chips in hand, we walk down a long hall past a beautiful garden to the check in counter. Here we are given three towels --- small, medium and large --- and two different outfits to wear in public places ... a cotton, kimono style pantsuit and a bright orange pantsuit for the *hot rock* section. Of course, in Japan, I am an extra large.
We enter the women's spa.
Step one. Strip. Put all your clothes and cosmetics in a locker.
Step two. Take the small towel with you to the shower room ... a large room with about 20 washing cubicles, each with a hand shower and faucet. Shampoo, conditioner and body soap are provided along with a pumice stone. And now you scrub yourself down ... seriously ... wash everything 'possible'
Step three. Use your tiny towel as a modesty shield and head for the baths. Here you have multiple choices.
The square tub with white water ... white because the water is full of tiny, tiny bubbles.
The Jacuzzi tubs where you lay back against pulsing jets that massage your back, your feet ... aaah!
The large serene tube with very hot water that has windows to the outdoor spas... of which there are many.
In the center of a the garden is a large spa with two different levels of pools.
In the back right corner is a shallow spa with beds to lay on.
In the back left corner are my favorite --- three large ceramic tubs big enough for one or two adults or a group of little girls.
In another corner is a tub where the water has compressed air in it so when you sit in it your body is covered with bubbles.
So many choices for how to get into hot water! And so many naked women of all ages, size and shapes. I imagine that on the other side of the beautiful, tall, plastec bamboo fence is a similar set up, full of naked men.
But we are not done yet! Now we go shower ... again. And then don our orange suits and head for the hot stone spas. Now we are in a common area with men (in their green suits) and women (in orange) wandering around. There's a room with lounge chairs, several verandas with lounge chairs. Things to drink. A room with a TV! The spa part of this are the rooms with hot stone floors that you spread your large towels on and then lie down. They come in three different temperatures ... hot, very hot, and OMG ridiculously hot. I last about 2 minutes in the very hot room and go find a lounge chair in a cool spot to wait for Shoko. She wakes me up when she is finished and we head back to the locker room for yet another shower ... this time to rinse off the sweat.
Now we dress in the cotton kimono outfits and go have lunch. We choose the noodle shop over the fancier restaurant. After lunch we take a walk through the garden. We make an attempt at having a rest in the tatami room but all the mats are occupied, so we sit on a bench with our feet in a hot water bath for a while. Then I take another nap while Shoko has another spell with the hot stones. I am awakened by an attendant who says I am not wearing the appropriate garb to be where I am. Only orange suits allowed in this area. I'm in the cotton kimono outfit. So I head back to the locker room. I rinse off, once again, and head for one of the tubs in the garden. It was really idyllic .. laying back in the tub, looking up through the trees with a cool breeze blowing ...
Shoko appears about the time I am lobster red with prunes for fingers. We lie down on chaises and cover ourselves with our tiny towels ... which doesn't do much for me. So Shoko graciously gets a large towel for me to hide under. As we are sitting there chatting, Shoko asks me if there is anything place like this in the US. I can't think of any ... there are spas and gyms where people get naked for brief periods of time , but other than a nudist colony I don't know where people would just hang out in the nude and chat among groups of naked strangers. But here it is a family affair. Multiple generations of women are wandering around together ... and I suspect men on the other side.
After a short sit in the carbonated tub ... we decide that we've had enough. We've only been here for 5 hours ... maybe it's time to go home.