Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Japan onsen

Hi Hi ........ my ‘real’ sister called me the other day wondering what’s going on with my life lately. She hinted that every time she comes into my blog, it’s all about THAT man! Hehe sorry, sometimes I do get a little carried away. Well, who told him to be that handsome ma?! But honestly I really want to record my experience here in Japan, so while HRH is burying his head into writing his ‘Beauty of Korea’, I should be writing my own ‘Beauty of Japan’ or ‘Beauty of Asia’ :) We know Yong Joon loves the onsen (hot springs) in Japan, so maybe I'll share my own onsen experience ......

The very first time I tried onsen was in my 20s, single and carefree, working on a special assignment in Tokyo. My colleagues were kind enough to invite me to their friends’ weekend onsen outing. Now where we went and how we got there, I honestly had no clue. All I remember was a bunch of us - guys and gals, Japanese, Australians, British, Canadian (moi) boarded this train at Ueno station and pretty much stood at the back of the train car the whole time talking and laughing. We arrived at a quiet town with soaring mountains, running creeks and a main street lined with old shops and ryokans. When I watched Junsang, Yujin & the whole gang went on that mountain picnic, the scenes of the train station and mountain brought back such fond memory of this trip.

The ~10 of us dashed into this cozy family-owned ryokan, girls in 1 big tatami room and guys in the other. What?! No private toilet and bath, how was a girl going to wash her face, shower, shampoo and dry her hair? Well, I was told you were supposed to accomplish all those tasks at the onsen area. I remember it was mid-winter and cold air was creeping in through the shoji paper screen windows. The only heat source was from a charcoal burner under the table which you might end up barbequing your own feet or you just covered yourself from head to toes with a big blankie and drank lots of hot green tea. I went for both :)

My tummy was very much fulfilled when our obasan served us her home cooked ryori in the dining room. The food was simple seafood and tofu hot pot but our hearts felt so warm and delightful. By nightfall, I was soooooooo looking forward to submerge myself in some natural hot spring water! So I had my yukata and happi coat on, brought my big white towel and followed the gang happily up the mountain steps in the dark. Viola, a steaming hot spring surrounded by naturally formed rocks, high up on the edge of the mountain. Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t get anymore natural than that!

The hot spring was lit up by night lights and looked very spectacular. Well, not as spectacular as what came next ...... hey, was I seeing it right? Weren’t those ‘men’ in there?? I meant m-e-n! Yes, without hesitating for even 1 second, my ‘dependable, professional’ business colleagues jumped in one by one wearing nothing but their birthday suits! (maybe wrapped in a towel, I don’t remember) Leaving only ‘moi’, frozen by the sight of this very ‘new & real’ experience. I was faced with the dilemma of simply closing my eyes and join in OR searching my way back down the mountain in the dark, not even mentioning being the laughing stock for the rest of the trip? Well, it would’ve been a quick n' easy decision if Yonsama were soaking in there! But Yonsama was still a baby then, sigh! So the silly me did neither, I just turned around and had my back to the hot spring, sat on a giant boulder and stared out to the shimmering small town below until my friends were done!

Hehe, please don’t feel too bad for me as the girls were nice enough to take me to a private onsen inside the ryokan later for a dip. Actually it was more like a humongous bathtub, but I was happy to be 'in touch' with hot spring water at last. Well, the night was still young for the gang, so the gals decided to go to the guys' quarter and party all night! Since I can't drink, I opted to stay in our tatami room and enjoyed my own companionship sleeping on a futon the first time. I opened the shoji window, looked up at the starry sky and felt the chill of a wintry night. Eventhough the town and the ryokan was very simple, but there was this charm of calmness and quietness that seemed to cleanse your mind and body. Many years later when I returned to Japan, I come to learn that onsen is indeed a very civilized, relaxing and even addictive leisure, just like my ‘chuom’ experience :)

Next .... Hakone onsen (箱根)


gosijo said...

LOL, Lady Jaime!

I'm picturing your story as if it was in a manga, with your eyes popping out when you realized there were m-e-n in the spring, and then sitting all alone on your boulder imagining the courage you'd have if Yonsama was in there (I know, I'm mixing past and present, haha!).

Loking forward to the next part!

BTW, Toronto reached 11 degrees yesterday!

Hyds said...

hahahaha I thought you would be writing about your Onsen experience...why are there still pics of this very handsome man?? tsk, tsk, tsk..Btw, I don't blame you..someone told me yesterday I was writing more of him than my little Britain ;-) ooopppsss Do you think they noticed????

Anyway, I have been wanting to go on a cabin holiday here especially in the Highlands overlooking the lakes (sigh)or in a Swiss/Alpine region. A fairy Godfather may hear me one day.. I have been hinting already ;-)
Thanks's a lovely read.


LENY said...

ha ha ha ha ....oh my Jaime san, you refresh my old memories. Exactly the same Onsen and the same experience.
But yes you're right, onsen is very civilized, relaxing and very addictive liesure.
Oh my God mata Nihon ni ikitai yo, onsen de hairetai mo, he he he.

I enjoy reading your blog, thanks.

Love, leny

jaime said...

Dear gosijo,

Hehe, I thought it was pretty silly too. I guess the ignorance of being a foreigner and the miscommunication. Funny things still happen to me now, except like what you said, Yonsama is in the picture at present time :)

So happy to hear that you can enjoy some nice weather, a good sign that spring is here!

love ... jaime

jaime said...

Hi Hyds,

so sorry I know it looks strange sticking up Yonsama's pictures with my own onsen trip. But back then I never bother taking any pictures, so I had no record of it except by writing it down. I don't even keep in touch with those gals anymore.

I look forward to reading about your cabin holidays. Hehe no, there's never enough postings about Yonsama :)

love ... jaime

jaime said...

Konnichiwa Leny san,

Anata no Nihongo ga joozu desu ne! Doko de naraimashita ka?

Hotoni?! Dono Nihon no onsen ni ikimashita ka? Kikitai n desu ga :)

yoroshiku onegaishimasu,

Hyds said...

hehehehe don't apologise..I was just kidding ;-) I am glad you showed these pictures. I didn't see them before..I'm sure you have an archive of his photos or should I say a library ;-)
Thanks Jaime.
about that cabin holiday I have to keep dreaming ;-) might come true.Btw I'm going camping next month..hopefully the weather would cooperate ;-)

Yoko said...


It was a good experience for you just to look at it. Even me a Japanese don't have a clear memory of bathng in onsen where both men and women were OK . I just remember my friends and I hesitated over to bathe or not though we wanted to hear it was a nice onsen. (That was a indoor one, in ryokan.)We might bathe in a corner with a shield or something and that wouldn't have been comfortable!

Last weekend I went to Arima onsen with my colleges. It's in Hyogo ken so we visited Osaka and Kobe during 2 days 1 night trip. (Oh, I live in Gifu, 30 minutes train from Nagoya.)It's been very long since I went to onsen last. We stayed Arima Grand Hotel on the hill and that was a new and gorgeous hotel with nice modern onsens on the top. Its onsen is not transparent,so it's good for men and women together, I guess. But they don't have it, instead they have a onsen only for one family on the other floor. We didn't have it in old days.
It was so nice to bathe in onsen especilally in an open air!

When I think back I went on several nice onsen trips before but most memorable one is an open air one in the snow. My sisters and I went to ski, so along the street there was snow as high as us. The nicely built onsen in Japanese style was no charge and no other people, yes just three of us!! I think it was somewhere in Hirayu near Takayama.

By the way did you try sento? It's a public bath. The number of it getting smaller and smaller now, but in my child days, it was in very neighouhood. There were houses which did not have a bath then. Though my family had a bath but I was happy when my mother said "let's go sento".

Sorry this became so long.
I'm lookng forward to your another onsen story.


jaime said...

Hi Yoko,

Thank you for telling me about these different onsens you went to. It's fun to hear about your experience. I'm like you, very shy. I wait until others leave before going in.

Hehe, I haven't tried sento. It reminds me so much of the public baths that Chanwoo's abolji went with his meiyo. You live near Nagoya? So you have gone to Hwa?
Thanks for writing to me!

love .... Jaime