About 2 weeks ago, it was my first time to Kyoto and my first time staying at a Japanese ryokan. I would have gladly turned down any invitation to hotsprings whether it be a Korean jjimjilbang, Turkish hammam or the Japanese onsen, but this time, we had paid more than $1000 for one night’s stay, I guess there’s no better time and place than now to try the Japanese onsen, right?
After checking in and going gaga over the look of our traditional Japanese-style ryokan room, I quickly changed into the yukata prepared by the ryokan to make my way to the first pool I was gonna try. Took my towel and entered the changing area, where two naked elderly ladies had just finished their soak at the indoor onsen and were simply relaxing in the area. They didn’t look too embarrassed, but I still respectfully kept my gaze averted and continued my way. Removed my yukata and put them into an empty basket together with my towel, and went to the shower area. Had a quick rinse of my body, and went to the onsen. There wasn’t anyone in the pool, thankfully! The water was very hot though so I slowly – though hoping I could be as swift as I can, just in case someone comes along – got in.
I died and went to onsen heaven.
It felt soooooooooo good. The water relaxed me so much. In no time at all, I was so happy to be in my own world. Who cares that I wasn’t even wearing a bathing suit! (Nothing is allowed in the onsen, not even a face towel.) I was beginning to craft ideas to encourage every woman I know to try a Japanese onsen at least once in their life. Such a liberating experience! How did I actually take so long to try a Japanese onsen?!? Almost unbelievable.
Afterwards, I moved up to an outdoor onsen, enjoying the hotspring. The roof sheltered me from the rain, while it drizzled outside and night began to fall. It must have been at least 10-12 degrees that evening, but I did not feel the least bit cold.
Afterwards, I went back to my ryokan room for a short break, before going for a second soak. This time, I made sure to stay long enough to feel that I was sweating (about 20 minutes). By the time I left the onsen, my body felt significantly heavier than before. I could barely stay alert mentally. What is this sorcery! Has the water been drugged or something?!? A very strange feeling. The reaction was due to muscles fully relaxing.
The next morning, I got up at 6.30am to take a dip again, this time, at a different pool. It was a stunning experience watching the sun rise over Lake Biwa – the largest freshwater lake in Japan. This was the view I had (sorry, no photography allowed), except the entire atmosphere was bathed in the golden glow of the morning sun. A breeze was blowing and I watched the steam float past above the water surface, as fresh hot water kept entering the onsen. Sheer bliss. Wished I could take a video to document it.
Add an onsen activity to my itinerary whenever I’m in the Land of the Rising Sun, please!
Onsen manners as advised by the ryokan:
Read my full feature about the awesome Yumotokan onsen ryokan!
Have you tried the Japanese onsen before? Did the experience strike you as much as it changed my mind about hotsprings? Share with me by writing a comment below!
Visited: Dec, 2015
Credits: Photo of onsen pool from Booking.com, Panoramic view of onsen is via Google Maps