Otsukaresama, soothe those aching muscles in a relaxing onsen!

  • Japanese culture has a certain level of comfort with being naked. Some festivals like the naked man festival shows how comfortable the people can be with nakedness. I think their nakedness has more to do with comfort than it does with sexuality. There is a childlike modesty they have about the naked body. Onsens and sento’s are a thing of peace, and comfort, which is one part of Japanese culture that at first experience had me hooked, line and sinker!

    Onsens are a great way to relax, unwind and maintain the balance of life. It may be the secret to how and why a majority of Japanese, in genera,l have such good health.

    Picture this…

    It’s Friday, it’s been a long week, work was hard, your feet ache, your back aches, you long for rest and relaxation!

    What to do?

    Simple. Find a sento or onsen.

    The lingo

    A sento is (銭湯) is a Japanese communal bath. These bath houses are located in city areas and can easily be identified with a big red “ゆ” on the building. Patrons pay an entrance fee, and can enjoy bathing as long as they want. Men and women bathing sections are separated, but some have private rooms where couples and families can bathe together upon reservation. The separated bathing areas are both neatly equipped with lockers, bathrooms, showers, a sauna, a resting area with cold drinking water, hair dryers, and some basic amenities (this may vary from palace to place). Modern sento have changed quite a bit from what they were in the past. Some modern sento now have baths with various temperatures some as low as 15 degrees, and some as high as 30 degrees.

    Yusenji-Moriyama area Nagoya

    My personal favorite is always the electric bath (電気風呂) which delivers a small electric pulses to the body in a rythmic kind of pulsing motion that sometimes intensifies. It feels great and is wonderful after a long tiring week or a hard work out at the gym. Keep in mind that a sento doesn’t use water from a natural hot spring so it may feel a bit different. But still very relaxing.

    An onsen is a hot bath that uses water from a natural hot spring. However in the Kansai region in Japan “onsen” is also a commonly used to name sento. 天然温泉 means natural hot spring and sento and super sento that have natural hot spring water will advertise it somewhere. Some of the best onsens I’ve been were in Gifu, which is not that far from cities like Nagoya.

    Different types of baths

    Whether you opt for going to the sento or the onsen, keep in mind that you are naked, with a small white towel for covering yourself and you are bathing with a group of people usually of the same sex.

    If this isn’t your thing, then maybe you would be more comfortable in a private bath house or in a room with a private bath. Some places have these bathing options available, some private baths require a reservation and sometimes at an extra fee. However, at some resorts Japan wide, there are rooms with a private onsen inside the room or an outdoor bath known as a rotenburo. These rooms offer guests more privacy, and can be a bit more expensive, but I think it’s definitely worth it and a nice experience to have at some point while in Japan.