Experiencing a traditional onsen (温泉) in Japan has always posed a problem for me. It’s not the hot water nor the price that worries me, but the obligation to get completely naked before jumping in. That handkerchief-sized, piece of cloth handed to you before entering? That’s intended for a little forehead dab while bathing, not for covering up.
Hotel staff may recommend that squeamish visitors make a late night trip to the onsen between 01:00 and 03:00 to avoid sharing the onsen. But what about all the other guests that have been given the same advice? My own brilliant nighttime plan seemed not so brilliant when I found myself bumping into other shy girls avoiding eye contact and clearly wishing I wasn’t there.
The same problem goes for any inked people out there. Even if you’re not the shy type, unfortunately, tattoos are forbidden in public baths so you’ll be facing the same dilemma.
Since a journey to Japan is not complete without taking a dip in an onsen, I have tried and tested the 3 best ways to enjoy your own private onsen, whether you’re looking for a free alternative or you’re happy to splash a bit of extra cash.
An onsen is a natural hot spring that is common in Japan due to the country’s volcanically active terrain. Underground water is heated by an immense geothermal energy and minerals filter into the water. Once the water surfaces through the Earth’s crust, these spots of naturally heated water are like gold mines for those seeking traditional medication, whilst enjoying a tranquil retreat.
Some onsens and accommodation with onsen facilities offer both public and private rooms. Public onsens are open to all guests and divided into gender, while private onsens are open for reservation with an extra charge. These private onsen rooms can be indoor or outdoor depending on availability.
Hiring out a private onsen will normally set you back around 2,000 – 3,000 yen per hour. This is a good option for families travelling together as you won’t have to be separated by gender.
Toya Kanko Hotel (洞爺観光ホテル) in Hokkaido (北海道) offers a number of private onsen rooms that can accommodate a small family.
While private onsens are often on the expensive side, some small onsen resorts or ryokan (traditional Japanese guesthouses) allow you to reserve their onsen facility without incurring extra charges. Book your time in the onsen and you’ll be able to lock the door and enjoy that hot, steamy water all by yourself. This complementary service can be found in ryokan such as Hasuwa Inn (蓮輪旅館) in Yufuin (由布院). Just be sure to book the onsen in advance at reception.
If you’re on a romantic getaway to Japan, why not have a look into a hotel room with its own private onsen? With this option, you can have a romantic midnight dip in a private onsen from the comfort of your own hotel room with no time limit. To add a little extravagance, opt for a room with a view. Does it get more dreamy than that?
This type of room usually includes half board or full board, so you can quickly pop down for breakfast or dinner before slipping back up to your private bath.
Shuhokaku Kogetsu (秀峰閣湖月) in Fujikawaguchiko (富士河口湖) offers a breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji (富士山) and Lake Kawaguchi (河口湖) from their private onsen suites.
An onsen experience is something that must be enjoyed physically and psychologically. The magic of a natural hot spring will release you from any aches and pain; it will heal your skin and give you a serene moment to clear your mind. If you are having second thoughts or not feeling comfortable with the public facilities, don’t choose to miss out on the Japanese onsen experience altogether. Trust me, you will not regret it.
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