The Japanese snow monkeys that live in Jigokudani Monkey Park near Nagano, Japan knew it all along –– Bathing in hot springs is relaxing and relieves their stress. It makes perfect sense to me: soak in these amazing, healing hot springs called onsens and adopt Japanese bathing culture. Also, bathe in the evening to relax and wash off the dirt and fatigue of the day, soak your muscles after a typical day of walking around and climbing subway steps. Go to bed clean instead of dirty so that your sheets stay clean too. (And take your shoes off at the door, not put them in your closet! Yuck!)
The Japanese love bathing. It’s an integral part of their religion through purification and connecting to one of the most powerful forces of nature, water. In Shinto, there is no such thing as sin, only some layers of poor choices and negative thinking that need to be cleaned away to purify oneself back to the original state of pure being that ritual enacts. There were Japanese mixed gender public baths called sentos for centuries except now they are now gender segregated, but a few mixed gender sentos can be found. Only when Westerners showed up with their god and guns did everybody turn prude.
Onsens are a gift from the gods, and these Japanese hot springs that come deep from the earth of this volcanic-rich country are found throughout the archipelago. While living in Japan, my health routine and self-guided health insurance included regular visits to the onsen, chiropractor and getting a shiatsu massage. How I miss them all! I’ve written about two onsens I’ve experienced while on the Kumano Kodo, the Onsen and Hotel Nagisaya in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan and the Healing Waters at Kamiyusou, Totsukawa, Nara 神湯荘. When in Osaka I practically lived at Spa World, and then the kami really dropped their fortunes on me when I lived just a few blocks from the Tennen Onsen Naniwa-no-Yu in Nagaranishi.
Spa World, or Spa Worldo as taxi drivers will know it by, is like The Universal Studios of spas. Depending on the month, women and men are segregated and assigned either the Asian or Europe World-themed baths to wander the mega-plex and enjoy its variety of onsen types and spa services. Nudity is normal here, so get used to it and get over any shame you think the body divine nature gifted you wish may have. Spa World is near Shinsekei, one of my favorite and most interesting areas of Osaka that you can roam before hand. I had the luxury of riding my bike to Spa World from our Shinmachi apartment –- always easy parking!
At Spa World I was introduced to Korean table showers and body scrubs that invigorate your skin, and improve your circulation and lymph glands. It’s a glorious 90-minutes of hot towels and water, massage, steam and scrubbing. You soak in one of the onsens first, and if you are in Europe world, that includes an herb-infused soak among Greek caryatids or in a cozy grotto. There’s also regular massage and facials available, as you roam around to your next soak. I can never forget the glorious roses in the bath you soak in before you are called to the massage table, then gaze down at another bowl of roses as you are massaged. The Japanese know that beauty is healing, and nothing heals better than nature herself.
I got really into the hot/cold bath ritual in Japan, too, and there is a Scandinavian cold bath in addition to the sulfur healing bath. The heat of the onsen is remarkable for your tired muscles, but dipping into cold water afterwards is incredibly invigorating. Then there’s the Japanese ritual of pouring water over your head. This is like some kind of archetypical, mythological ritual that your whole being has craved for eons but has been absent in modern times. I still use a bowl to pour water over my head in the bath here in Florida. Also in Spain world you can sit under a pounding waterfall, like the Yamabushi do for religious training and purification. It’s an incredible experience and great feeling for your muscles. There’s salt and dry saunas, a restaurant and when finished bathing, a dressing and hair drying, makeup area. The whole complex is part of a larger hotel. But that’s more than I can go into here!
Tattoos are prohibited in Spa World and most onsens in Japan. A tattoo traditionally meant that you are associated with the Yakuza, or Japanese mob. Times have changed, and with the popularity and ubiquity of tattoos, more onsens across Japan are allowing them.
Other onsens I’ve experienced thanks to my sensei include the Inunakiyama Onsen Fudouchikan 犬鳴山温泉 不動口館 in Osaka. It’s popular for Japanese people to overnight here because of its close proximity to Kansai International Airport. (KIX) You can get amazing traditional Japanese food served, and then soak after a hike to Inunakisan Temple, where Yamabushi trainings are held. Kurama onsen is also a small but welcome onsen to soak your bones after hiking to Kuramadera Temple, the famous power spot of Kyoto. Nearby Kuramadera is Kibune Ryokan and Onsen, where kaiseki is served and you can fall asleep to the roar of the Kibune River after visiting Kifune Shrine, of which water is sacred.
So, you know that the day Covid is over and I am in Japan again, I’m heading to an onsen! Try bathing or showering in the evening and make bath time a sacred and relaxing time of self care and enjoying the pleasures of life.