Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Onsen in the mountains

Over the weekend, some friends and I went to an onsen way out in the mountains surrounding Kobe. This was my first time at an onsen, and since they're such a big deal in Japan, I thought there was going to be more to it, but it's basically just gender-divided hot tubbing.

We went to a hotel that had two different bathing rooms, one on the ground floor and one on the ninth floor. They issued us bathing clothes that kind of looked like something a samurai might wear but which I'm sure were actually much simpler and cruder than anything a samurai would ever be caught dead in. Once we changed into these clothes, we spent the rest of the time in this get up, shuffling around the hotel in slippers. (My slippers kept flying off my feet, occasionally hitting other pedestrians shuffling by, proving once again that everything in Japan takes some getting used to.)

We would spend a few hours in the baths and then recuperate with some food or sleep and then back to the baths. It seemed a bit indulgent to me, but this was actually the plan.

The bathing rooms are divided by gender. The baths themselves are in a sort of inner sanctuary, made holy by the gradual removal of shoes and clothes. The foyer of the baths is a no-shoes zone, the dressing room for the baths a no-slipper zone. Here, we undressed and put our samurai clothes into wooden lockers. The bathing room was a no-towel zone, except for a tiny washcloth that everyone carried (actually, lots of the older guys kept their the washcloth on their head when the were in the bath). First we sat down at washing stalls that looked kind of like dressing tables for a theater, except you sit on a low wooden stool and wash yourself, and instead of make-up and hair spray they are supplied with soap and shampoo. (The brand of the soap was called "horse oil," 馬油. I'm not sure exactly how it's pronounced or if it comes off as wrong in Japanese as it does in English.) The rule is you have to wash yourself completely before getting in the bath. There were six different baths in the men's section. There were various temperatures, mineral contents, bubbles, and so forth. Two of them were outside, and since it was snowing, this was somehow the most exciting area. We just sat around in the baths for hours, wandering from one to another.

The baths were open from 5:00 in the morning until 2:00 at night. Since we all had to work on Monday morning, it was decided that we would wake up early and hit the baths for an hour from 5:00 to 6:00 and then head back to Osaka. This seemed crazy to me, but it apparently made perfect sense to everyone else.

Randomly, this is the tile work at the Tsurumiryokuchi Station (鶴見緑地駅) on the subway's Nagahorietsurumiryoku Line (長堀江鶴見緑地線), the only line in the city whose name I still consistently forget.


Aiyana said...

i laughed out loud when i thought of you trying to walk in those slippers and them flying off of your feet.

MindOverMatter said...

That tile work is most amazing! A yellow tulip is sort of morphing into a sun hat for the girl who is morphing into a beautiful (Western) maiden! And those little red tulip people, meanwhile!
What imagery...