Friday, November 23, 2012

Get Naked: The Japanese Onsen Experience

The most frightening and exciting done I’ve done in my entire life is solo travelling around Europe.

A close second would be visiting a Japanese Onsen.

Have you ever tried the heated pools of Ace Water Spa? The Japanese Onsen is something like that. You’ll just be doing the entire experience in your birthday suit. I do have a healthy self-image of my imperfect body, but I have this apprehension of showing my body to the Japanese women who have flawless fair skin. I mean getting naked in front of a whole bunch of strangers?!?!?!

The pools of Ace Water Spa
I spent part of my nights researching about the etiquette and procedure in Jakotsuyu Japanese Onsen. This onsen is located in Asakusa area, just near my hostel. None of my roommates have tried an onsen. I asked the reception but all they said is that “it is like a spa”.  I didn’t have any idea what to do so I Googled and found these websites:

I navigated the side streets of Asakusa area to find the Jakotsuyu Onsen. It was dark, and I had to walk in some, obscure streets. I found it.
The entrance
I removed my shoes at the entrance and placed them in the shoes locker. The next step is to buy a ticket at the vending machine. No need to worry about that because the vending machine has an English translation. One regular ticket costs ¥ 450. There are other options which include some towel, soap and shampoo – but I brought mine. 

The Japanese vending machine for the tickets.

I handed my ticket to guy manning the entrance booth. He just nodded and pointed to the women’s bath. Walang pakialam. Walang malisya. Ako lang naman ninenerbyos no. 

Public baths. No swimsuits allowed. So girls, hopefully you do not have your monthly visit if you plan to visit an onsen because that would just be plain rude and icky. No more pics from this point.

I gingerly removed my clothes and placed them in the locker. As I removed my last scrap of underwear, I gathered all my wits and courage to “get over being scared”. Eto na. Wala nang atrasan. Ano ba, ang tense ko! This is supposed to be relaxing! Just like a spa. Just like a spa....

I carefully entered the bath area. It has a shower area, a bathing/scrubbing area, and the pools. The pool has this wall painting of Mt. Fuji and some cherry blossoms – something that is consistent in all the anime-onsen scenes.

I showered first. While looking-busy showering under the nice hot sprays, I discreetly looked around. There were around 8 women and two kids inside the baths, and I saw just a few women in the changing room. After showering, I grabbed a stool in and staked my claim in a space in the bathing area. There were knobs for hot water, cold water and a shower. There was also a small mirror in front of the washing space. You should scrub yourself clean before entering the pool. Lalalalalalala...

I scrubbed in all seriousness, losing some of my apprehension in the process. I am already in my birthday suit and sharing this space with other strangers who doesn’t give a damn.  

After scrubbing myself clean, I left my toiletries in a cabinet near the entrance. Time to enter the pool in all my glory. *Goddess mode, activated*

You should have a small towel for modesty. I didn’t. I considered buying but I was hit by the spirit of Kakuriputan. You should enter the pool area with the small towel covering your lower private part. Be careful not to touch the towel in the water. You put the towel in your head after. And since I didn’t have one, that didn’t happen. I just entered the pool area as is. HARHARHAR. Entering the pool reminded me of how Ranma and Akane met.

How Ranma and Akane met
The ladies were totally cool about it. I think they’ve been seeing naked female bodies all their life so there is no malice whatsoever. I think I got a few stares from the women because I didn’t have a small towel to be discreet enough – or maybe that’s just my imagination. They were probably quite busy with their own thoughts and they see other naked women everyday to really bother staring at me. I kept busy by trying to be cool. made a conscious effort to mind my own business.

The water was quite hot, so I didn’t last long in the pool. If you have trouble breathing, you can step out of the bath area and back in the changing room for some cool air. I took a cold shower, caught my breath, and soaked back in the pool. A few minutes of soaking and I was relaxed enough. I discreetly looked at the others. They must have really flawless skin because they haven’t been bitten by the “nikniks” of the beach. Hmp! Che!

I went inside the hot-and-cold-pools in another room. This is something like the hot and cold pool in Ace Water Spa, but the water is not scented. Still in my birthday suit, I whispered “Sumimasen” (excuse me) as I entered the hot pool. I splashed a bit, but the women hanging out there didn’t seem to mind. After getting some confidence, I got out of the hot pool and splashed into the cold pool.

COLD. FREEZING. But my pride kept me from screaming and getting out of the pool. I felt every cell of my body tingle because of the change in temperature. I counted to twenty and climbed out of the cold pool and sat in the edge for a bit. Whew! I wanna do that again! So I did.

The ladies minded their own business. Actually, I think I was the only one concerned of being “judged” for my body and I was the only one observing everyone else. Except for a couple of occasional “sumimasen-s” uttered, the bath was quiet. It is really a good relaxing place. I can’t imagine this setting back in the Philippines, everyone would be chatting about their hair/skin care regimen and everyone would be friends afterwards.

After more than an hour, I showered and changed back into my clothes. The changing room had some hair dryers and even a chair massage – you just need to insert some change so you can use them. The whole experience lasted for 1.5 hours I think. I spent more time worrying out the entire experience.

This is one experience that I am very happy that I was alone. Would I do this again? Definitely.

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