We were born nude, lived in the nude and over time have become a fully clothed society. To break free from the societal norms and regress back to our original forms, some people go skinny dipping, or head to the nude beaches. In Japan, you go to an onsen, and the Japanese love their onsens.
When I first heard about onsens I was like “You had me at ‘naked’.” An onsen is a hot spring, where the water is heated from a nearby volcano. These days you can find man-made onsens yet they still have the same traditions: You must shower before entering, you must wear your hair up, and you must be naked. The Japanese are very clean people so to break any of these rules is frowned upon. Years of skinny dipping in the woods during my teen years had prepared me for this moment. We went to the Osawa Onsen in Hanamaki. If you ever get the chance to go to an onsen, choose the ones that are located outdoors and if you’re brave enough, a mixed onsen, meaning male and female. The Osawa Onsen had both.
The onsen was located in the most traditional building I have seen yet. With the progression of society, and western influences, it’s rare to see traditional Japanese houses anymore. Tatami mats were spread out over the floors in each of the rooms, each door slid to open, the building was made of wood and you weren’t allowed to wear shoes save for the slippers provided.
Even though it was about eight degrees celsius outside, I was prepared to strip off my fuzzy boots, scarf, pea coat, long-sleeved shirt, jeans and thick socks for the wonderful warmth that we would soon experience.
When first stepping out into the nipply air be prepared for a sight to see. Meaning you will see male genitals– everywhere. It’s kind of hard not to notice. The actual view from the water though is so gosh darn lovely that limp penile images are no distraction. The bathing area opens up to the side of the mountain that rises above it, bare trees imitating our nudity. Separating the onsen and the mountain is a river snaking through the woods and causing the many water mills nearby to spin quickly. It’s everything that I wanted for my first onsen experience.
Probably the most awkward part of bathing is accidentally making eye contact with a fellow bather of the opposite sex. I almost did this multiple times and found myself facing one direction the whole time for fear of making eye contact. It’s like acknowledging that we are both naked together in this bath rather than enjoying a relaxing time in our most natural form. Hey, how you doin’?
The water is different in each onsen that you go to, but mainly, they are all pretty scorching hot. I don’t recommend jumping directly into the onsen especially if it’s cold outside. The transition from extremely cold to extremely hot is not a pleasant feeling, therefore I eased my way in so that my body could get used to it. I was not able to do this activity for very long though because of how scorching hot the waters were.
Oh, and this post lacks pictures for obvious reasons: you’re not allowed to take pictures of the naked people. Damnit.