So, now that I’ve told you a little about how an onsen made me feel, lets talk about how the one I went to worked.
The inn we went to was called Rifret’s Club. It was in a town called Kusatsu of Gunma prefecture.
It took us about five hours to get there by bus from a town two stops over by train, Katsutadai. I’ve been to this town before once or twice for speech contest and again for an enkai. The bear bones of that word means pleasure meeting. Teachers have them at the end of huge school events to eat and drink.
On our, I say our because really we went with about thirty other people, way we stopped at the Tomioka Silk Factory. It is Japan’s oldest modern model silk reeling factory, established in 1872 by the government to introduce modern machine silk reeling from France and spread its technology in Japan. After touring that, we stopped and got food then kept traveling. (Thank you nice man for attempting to show me how to use the drink machine that was all in Japanese with no pictures. You are both a gentleman and a scholar. I won’t forget your kindness to the silly American girl.) During our trip up the mountain we got to know two other foreigners, Henry from Uganda, and Raymond from the states. We were all pretty tired though and snoozed off an on amid scenery changes and Japanese chatter.
Now, aside from the fact that they couldn’t figure out how to spell their own inn’s name in English, they took very good care of their establishment. The inn’s outside looked fairly modern which is an interesting contrast to its traditional descent. It was all white-sliver angles and glass. Inside it was very bare feeling but this somehow added to its relaxed nature in my opinion. You are not allowed to wear your shoes in the inn either which also adds to this feeling. I love being bare foot. They gave us little slippers to run around in.
There’s no sound to this video…I’m unsure as to why….But I said I love you! Hahaha!
Another thing you are giving to run around in follows the lines of a robe. In your room, you will have what is called a yukata which is a little like a kimono, but really considered casual summer wear in Japan. You wear these…well everywhere. It is very common to see people lounging in them outside of their rooms in the game area, at breakfast, the karaoke lounge, or just to and from the baths. I was skeptical of size, but as long as I tied it rather tightly, I covered everything. I will admit I made sure to drop my towel in front of my legs as I walked up the stairs though…talk about legs for days…The point is they are very comfortable and cozy all the same.
Hayley, Angela, and I shared a room. Hayley was bouncing all over the place when she found out our room was what she lovingly referred to as a tatami room. In the evening, you remove the futons from the closet as well as the bed clothes and sleep on the floor. Its actually pretty nice.
At the earnest look on Hayley’s face and at my refusal to be cowed by my own insecurities, we three decided to go straight to the baths. We donned our yukata and trekked to my supposed doom.
Once we found the baths, we opened one door, then another to get into a changing area. Baskets are upside down awaiting guests like proper wicker butlers. We flipped them over and tossed everything in…and I literally mean everything. In this room you get rid of all your trappings and dignity, taking with you only a small cloth about the size of a wash cloth or hand towel.
Facing the baskets is a door that leads to a wash room. It is essentially a big tiled room with barely sectioned off wash stations. At each is a stool, a bucket, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and a hand held shower head. Rinse off the stool, sit down, wet your body, soap up, rinse, tie your hair up and done.
Now, some onsen have many different baths and waters to try, but ours was a sulfur hot spring and provided no other type of bath. Its variety came in the way that it had completely separate outside and inside baths for both men and woman. Some hot spring inns allow different times for the outside and inside baths, so it was very nice to experience both on my own time.
At the end of the tiled room, a few feet from the wash stations was the inside bath. Its water was an opaque green color as if it was literally medicated. Many people believe hot spring water to be good for the skin and body in general. I wouldn’t disagree to some extent. My skin felt soft and velvety after this trip.
Now, the inside bath is nice and all, but we three moved to the door leading into a tiny hallway about three feet long that led right outside. Imagine being outside in the winter. Now imagine wearing shorts, being caught in the rain, without an umbrella, in your skivvies…naked and soaking wet. I would like to take this moment to let you know that it was cold enough outside at this time for there to be patches of SNOW on the ground. Keeping myself from RUNNING to the bath a few feet away could be considered a hero’s feat in my opinion. The water outside is clearer, though I don’t know why. The area is shaped rather like an open egg, the basin holding the pool of sulfur water and the sides leading up into a tree lined view of the sky. There were shallow areas and then one deeper area. The ground tiled with little areas set up for lounging in the water.
The important thing to remember when bathing in a hot spring is to reset your body temperature. Fainting is common for first timers because they tend to forget to drink lots of water instead of alcohol and stay in the water too long. You sort of play hopscotch with the hot pools. Half in, half out. All out, all in. Sit above the water barely skimming the surface waiting, waiting, until you’re too cold to take it and then back into the heat of the bath. Its strangely refreshing and exhausting at the same time. You get out of the bath and feel so sleepy you just want to lay down. It’s sort of like having had just enough wine you feel comfortable, a little dizzy if you move too fast, warm all over, and sleepy. It a great feeling really.
After a bath and a tiny nap, the group reconvened for speech time. Hayley, Henry, Ray, Angela, a few of the Japanese travelers, and myself all gave speeches about various things. I spoke about Texas colloquialisms most especially ‘yonder.’ They were so interested about the word ‘yonder’ that even the next day I heard it murmured in discussion on the way home off and on.
After this, we had dinner, chatted and drank, did karaoke for a bit, and then the girls and I went back to the baths. By the second time I was a veteran in my mind and was almost too long in the baths, but I had a lot of fun. I’ll admit that I hope the experience changed how I viewed myself if only a little. I suppose only time will tell really.
The next day we headed home but stopped at the source of the sulfur springs and Fukiware falls. The Kusatsu hot spring is considered one of the 100 spots of peculiar smell. Who knew people went around naming places like that? The colors of the yubatake were very beautiful to me.
The waterfall surrounded by huge outcropping of rocks was just as beautiful. It was very exciting to be able to get so close to the crystal clear falls. Hayley, Henry, and I went up and crossed the bridge above the rushing waters to explore. There we found a little shrine and two little old ladies who sold charms in the seemly solitary area. No one was really up there but us, probably due to the misting rain that had begun to fall. It was lovely and quiet. I could have sat on the bench in that cold for hours I think, if my tummy hadn’t been telling me it was time to feed it. Hahaha!
We ate lunch and then started the long journey home. On our way down the mountain though, Angela remarked that she kept seeing signs for a certain castle we had become familiar with through two dramas we had recently watched together. It was quite ridiculous, but nearly the moment we mentioned how cool it would be to accidentally come upon it, it zoomed by us. Startled, we excitedly promised to make a trip back. Who knows who we might meet next time.
Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu. (Please take care of me.)
anata WA raki- desu