Experiences, Leisure, Travel

My First Onsen Experience

Written By: Coco Yancey
Edited By: Marrista K. Stubbs

At the ripe age of 24, I decided to take a girl’s trip to Japan. Marrista and I worked for a cruise ship for 6 months and needed an exciting vacation. This was my first trip out of the country and going to Japan had always been a dream of mine. So, we decided to make it happen! One place that I wanted to visit the most during our stay was an Onsen. Going to these places is a Japanese tradition and something that I’ve seen in a lot of anime. Yes, I’m a huge nerd. I’d never experienced anything like that before and I couldn’t wait to see what it was really like.

I will never forget this experience for as long as I live. That’s the kind of impact that it had on me. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring and is said to provide several health benefits. Some of these include increased blood flow, circulation, and metabolism. Not to mention the water is loaded with skin-nourishing minerals. The only thing that was a little off-putting to a foreigner like me was having to be completely nude. Like no clothes AT ALL. We decided to go to the onsen about halfway through our two-week vacation in Tokyo. I picked a place that I found on Google and we decided to meet there. I ended up getting to the bathhouse first and being the guinea pig for the whole process.

My first mistake, of many to come, was not taking my shoes off as soon as I entered the premises. My second mistake was not knowing any Japanese. The hostess had to practically do sign language with me because of the huge language barrier. W ended up working it out, though. I was able to get my bathrobe, towel, and slippers for the Onsen. I also noticed guests couldn’t have tattoos. A fact that applies to a lot of onsens. Some places are becoming a little more lenient on foreigners who have them as it is not common in Japan to have tattoos. Some people fear them as they are a sign of being in a Yakuza (gang), so keep this in mind if you’re tatted. I luckily didn’t have any tattoos, but Marrista did. She got lucky though and didn’t end up having anyone call her out when she got there.

I left the front desk and turned the corner to go to the women’s only area. As I opened the curtain and entered the locker room I saw that everyone was completely naked. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Never in my life before that, had I ever see anyone else completely naked other than myself. Yes, I know as a woman we all have the same body parts. And I knew on some level there would be nudity, but to actually be in that situation was surprising. The coward in me was screaming “you made a mistake” and to turn around and leave. However, the fighter in me was determined to at least try this experience before giving up.

I’m glad I did.

I walked over to my locker and tried to overt my gaze from anyone who was staring at me. I just decided to mind my business and make the best of the situation. Plus I had already paid and wasn’t going to let my money go to waste. I walked over to my locker to get undressed then headed over to the washing station to clean up before soaking in the baths. They take hygiene seriously in these places and provide plenty of shampoo, body wash, and sometimes skin are too.

I remember thinking to myself that the baths outside were probably not crowded. It was freezing that time of year and a little rainy that day too. I quickly darted through the main bathing room while being stared down by the curious older Japanese women that were there. Unfortunately for me the bath outside was pretty full. I was already there so I decided to suck it up. I sat down awkwardly in the steamy mineral water, determined to enjoy myself.

After speaking with a woman who was in the bath with me and getting comfortable enough with being naked around strangers, I started to really savor my experience. Marrista arrived shortly after I did and we continued to unwind until we felt hungry. Most onsens these days have different floors to eat, play, and even stay overnight. We went to grab a meal upstairs at the restaurant. Not only was the food delicious, but we were served by an extremely cute guy and invited to do karaoke with a couple of cheerily intoxicated older women.

There was so much to do and see since there were two floors full of different activities. From massages and snacks to relaxation rooms and karaoke; to say we had fun that night would be an understatement. Plus the water made my skin super soft after being dried out by the late winter weather. We finished up kind of late that night with plans to visit another time.  Trying to get home afterward got a little crazy, but that story is for a different time.

If you’re ever lucky enough to take a trip to Japan, no matter which part, set aside some time for an onsen. There are mixed and separate baths, small public onsens, and huge theme parks. There’s an onsen for everybody, so you can treat yourself with any budget or group size!

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