While driving out to the Mara Kannon Shrine, Jeremy and I passed signs for the Tawarayama Onsen. An onsen is a hot water mineral spring bath. Visiting an onsen has been on my Japanese Bucket for a while but I was also nervous about visiting one. Jeremy and I decided that today would be a good day to try it out.
The onsen was about a mile from the shrine. The town the onsen was in had incredibly narrow streets. They weren’t wide enough for two cars to fit across. Heck, in some places if there were people walking down the street, they had to step up on the porches to allow us to drive pass. It made me nervous. At random places, there were monkeys drawn on the road.
The onsen was beautiful. Outside they had a pet onsen and a foot onsen. They were both empty.
Inside the onsen was a restaurant. They had a display set up for Girl’s Day. I am still learning what the display means.
Jeremy and I decided to have lunch first before actually going into the onsen. The restaurant overlooked a beautiful garden. Jeremy ordered an udon hotpot. I ordered a Japanese hamburger platter. The food was delicious. I love Japanese hamburgers. They have a different taste and texture than American hamburgers. They taste more like meatloaf patties than hamburger.
After lunch, it was time to try the onsen. I was nervous for two reasons. First of all, onsens typically don’t allow tattoos. While we checked in and got directions I made sure my two tattoos were covered up but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep them hidden for long but in order to use the onsens, you have to be completely naked. That’s the other reason I was nervous. VERY few people have seen me naked and I am not comfortable with it. I am a plus size girl and I worried people would judge me.
One of the female workers lead me to the female dressing room. She didn’t speak any English. She showed me the lockers and pointed out how to pay for a key by dropping a 10 yen coin in the slot above the latch. Then she made gestures for me to undress. She waited for me to undress and she watched the WHOLE time. It was nerve racking. I tried to put my clothes in the locker and she stopped me. She put my clothes in a basket that lined the walls opposite the lockers. She pointed to my necklace and rings and then pointed to the locker. The locker is only for valuables. The basket are just for clothing. Once I was completely naked, she handed me a hand towel and led me through a glass door beside the baskets. In this room was two onsens on the right and a line of sit down showers on the left. She led me to a shower and showed me how to work everything. Then she stood behind and waited for me to wash up. Since I was nervous I washed my hair and body quickly. I started to turn to get up but she gave the Japanese sign for no (arms crossed in front the chest with hands full extended so it looks like a big X). I sat back down and she pointed to my face. I still had some eye make up on. She made me scrub until my face felt raw. Never wear water proof makeup the day you want to go to an onsen.
Once I was make up free she led me to the onsens. She also pointed out another one outside. Then she abruptly left. I stood there awkwardly for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. There were 4 or 5 older Japanese females in each of the indoor onsens. I went to the closest one. The water was quite warm but not really hot. The women in the onsen ignored me. I sat on the side and tried to relax. While the water felt nice, being naked in front of so many people wasn’t exactly relaxing. I decided to get out. As I walked out the onsen I was in I noticed that the outdoor onsen was empty, so I went out there.
It was so much better outside. Since the air was so cold, the water felt hotter. It over looked the side of a mountain. It was so quiet except for the monkeys playing in the forest on the mountain. The onsen was stone lined and absolutely beautiful. I wasn’t able to take pictures but this is from the onsen’s website.
While I sat in the water, it started to snow. It felt magical. At this point I understood why people liked onsens so much. I don’t know how long I was in the onsen but when I finally left it and got dressed again, Jeremy was waiting in the lobby.
While I am not comfortable being naked in front of others yet, I wouldn’t mind going to another one. The longer I live in Japan the more use I am to stepping out of my comfort zone to try new things. I definitely wouldn’t experienced anything like this back in the states.
While driving away from the onsen, we saw monkeys run across the road. They were much larger than I was expecting and looked more like a baboon than a chimp. We parked the car to see if we could see some more. We were able to find some more crossing the road further down but they weren’t close enough to try and get a picture of. We found afterwards that that part of Nagato is known for its wild monkeys. It was the monkeys that found the original onsen. That’s why the street was paved with monkey images. Jeremy wants to go back again to try and find the monkeys. I want to as well. Again something we can only do while in Japan.