Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Went to an onsen (hot spring) last night. We never used to be able to go to an onsen in the middle of the big city. When I was a kid, all the onsen were located in the mountains, because that is where the hot water veins were located. But nowdays, the Japanese figure you can hit a hot water vein anywhere in Japan if you are willing to dig deep enough, and technically, they are right.

The concept of a public bath in Japan is not limited to onsen. There are lots of public baths where the water is heated artificially. But the onsen are particularly popular because of the perceived benefit of soaking in the hot mineral water which forces its way to the surface from deep in the earth.

When you enter a public bath in Japan, there will usually be separate sections for men and women. You first enter a washing area, where there are several "stations" consisting of a small stool, a spray hose, and three or four different kinds of soaps and shampoos. The idea is to wash throughly before entering the bath. A westerner might wonder why they don't just have a shower area such as one might find in a gymnasium. But the concept is altogether different. The washing area is not just for removing basic filth and getting on with life. The purpose is to be thoroughly cleansed before entering the soothing waters of the hot bath. So taking a bath in Japan is a process which basically means a night out. It is not to be done quickly. And as is the time spent, so is the effect. You really do feel good after such a thorough treatment.

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