Steam, onsen, & outdoor baths

So, I love onsens. I don't understand people who don't. What is not to love about warm water, wet saunas, dry saunas, and relaxing in a hot tub under the stars. Especially since everyone doesn't have clothes on or even swimsuits on, everyone is on the same playing field. No need for jealousy of that swimsuit brand or those pair of shoes. The only sound is the sound of the bubbles in the water and the steam in the air, with an occasional smell of herbal water or Lavender infused sauna steam. Even the monkeys agree with me.

But another reason why I enjoy onsens so much is that I think they can be a wonderful form of fellowship as well. I still remember during my first Sunday at Shioda church, one of the older sisters, Eiko, invited me to go with her to an onsen after the services. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I remember a dear friend from home telling me to never say no during the first two weeks of a trip. So I took her advice and I went. Cultural differences like getting your ticket from the vending machine and seeing everyone (men and women are totally separated) naked quickly dissipate once you start talking and enjoying one another's company. As I think of it now, it seems rather synonymous to washing each other's feet as in biblical days. Even in one of the steam rooms in the most recent  onsen I went to on Sunday, there was a room where you could scrub salt into your skin. So my friend Reiko and I rubbed salt onto each other's backs. It is hard to describe that sense of closeness you feel after an onsen experience together. And ,obviously, there aren't too many pictures that I can share with you. But there are a few.

This is of Reiko, who invited me and Akihiro on Sunday to Isawa Kenko land. It is also a hotel like many onsens. So we were having breakfast together at the hotel after our onsen experience. Here was the most unique experience I've had at these baths, there were so many different scents and kinds of baths it took about an hour or so for us to even try all of them. The most remarkable one I remember was a bath were you laid flat in a hot tub shaped like a recliner, and every few days they changed the scents that were put into the water, so next to the title of the bath is a calendar of when each scents were used in the bathwater. While we were there they were using loquat leaves in the water; the next morning it was blueberry (and the water was actually blue). Usually the temperature of the water is about 40°C. The other bath that caught my attention was one that looked like milk. There was actually some sort of bubble making machine in the water that made what they call nano bubbles where the bubbles are so small it turns the clear water into a milky looking substance, but it is still just water and bubbles. Apparently it's good for your skin, like the Asian people need help with that. They all look like they're teenagers. Maybe it's all because of the nano bubbles.

The other onsen that I really enjoyed was in Odaiba after a short ferry ride from Asakusa with Jana Klaus. Here you could pick out your Yukata and walk into the locker room to change; there was also a vending machine for underwear. After changing into you yukata you walk into the marketplace area which houses many kinds of cafés and restaurants and games. You can choose to either relax here, go to the footbath area, or go into the onsen section.
We wanted to try the footbath area, so we traveled outside to an amazing looking area with what appeared to be a stream running through the cobblestone sidewalks. Except the water was amazingly warm and everyone was dressed with cute yukatas. You can choose to just sit along the edge soaking your feet calmly, or move to the back of the area where they had a special section of water which housed fish in the water that were supposed to suck or chew off the dead skin on your feet. This was an extra fee and I wasn't interested in something that intense yet.
The baths here we're also fantastic, boasting many different kinds and an indoor plus outdoor section. It's hard to explain that feeling when you are outside with no clothes on but having wonderful conversations. The best way to describe it is to say that it is like 50 hot tubs in different shapes and kinds of water in an amazingly cool atmosphere. My last morning at the onset and I was outside soaking and no one else was around, so I sang praise songs and hymns and whatever came to my mind. Without having a car in Japan, it's one of my rituals I miss, being able to sing loudly at the top of my lungs. This wasn't quite as loud, but it still made me smile.
If you ever go to an onsen,  there is a certain etiquette you should be aware of before hand. It is Japanese basic hygiene style that you clean yourself before entering any warm bath relaxation area. There will always be a section of short sinks and possibly a few showerheads where you can pour water into buckets and clean yourself with their provided soap. It is also recommended for anyone with long hair that you put it up before entering the pools. Other than that, as long as you don't disturb other people in their relaxing environment enjoy yourself and make the most of this unique, cultural experience.