A Day at the Onsen.


My sister came from Norway last week to visit the baby and I in Japan while Dave was on the road to South Korea. We squeezed in as much quality time, sightseeing, and eating as we could into 6 short days.

On her first, and in all likelihood last, trip to Japan I wanted to show Alley local spots that she would always remember. Like the hole in the wall where we ate ramen or the grocery store where she finally understood what made me vomit on my first week here. And finally, the hot spring, or onsen, where we got naked with a bunch of strangers.

It’s not like I’ve never been naked in public before. The nuclear family we were raised in wasn’t exactly on a commune, but nudity wasn’t a big deal and prudes we are not. And my previous experiences abroad have shown me that, by in large, Americans are quite unique in the world in our simultaneous obsessions with sex/nudity/sexualizing everything AND modesty/chastity/body shame. We are a confused people.

Taking a naked sauna with your husband and any countless number of Germans of both genders one thing. But for some reason it was something totally different when we headed to Yashio Onsen in Nikko National Park. I’m fine with being naked. I’m fine with being naked with my sister. My baby sees me naked all the time, but I was a little worried because…well…she has a bit of a breast fixation. Generally, when I don’t want her to think it’s snack time, I have to keep the ladies covered.

We arrived at the onsen after on a few *ahem* minor issues with navigation by my sister. Let’s just say she didn’t get her sense of direction from me or my dad. We got our tickets, took off our shoes and headed into the locker room. And lockers can mean baskets, meaning we trust people not to steal our underpants. What a country!

When you enter the spa area, you queue up for a shower. In Japan it’s common to shower sitting on a stool (which I did not kn0w when I arrived here, making me very confused initially by the mirror at crotch level in our shower at home), and at the spa this is how it’s done. You sit down on a stool with a hole in the middle, presumably to let water flow through, just after some other lady removed her own naked butt from the same stool. It all seems kind of wrong but…when in Nikko, do as the Nikkoans! After you scrub yourself VIGOROUSLY, you’re set to go. There is an outdoor hot spring in a bowl of boulders, an indoor spa with jets, a long, still indoor spa, a dry sauna, a wet sauna (to me this means steam room?) and an outdoor courtyard where you can cool down. Nude.

The onsen is said to have healing properties for body aches, joint pain, and is even considered a treatment for some chronic illnesses. I don’t know about all that, but my sister’s mysterious leg pain was cured after our soak in the volcanic waters. However, she also believed the multivitamin my mom was giving her for years was a sleeping pill (and it really did put her to sleep), so we have to assume she is very susceptible to the placebo effect.

Overall the experience was really, really enjoyable. The water was really warm, but not really hot unless you got close to where it was entering the spa. The baby is generally a fan of water (especially when heated to a temperature of her liking) but she really went BANANAS for the hot spring. She was squealing, kicking her legs like a little frog and splashing. Splashing a lot. Which probably would have annoyed the mostly older ladies in our company, but seriously this baby is so cute. Smiling away, loving life with her big blue eyes and her little bum so cute in the nylon pink and purple swim diaper…it was kawaiiiiiiiiii kawaiiiiiiiiiii all over that spa. She was so overwhelmingly absorbed in all the sights and sounds of the room and the thrill of being in a tub of water she never even considered trying to grab a snack from my top half. Thank goodness.

4 thoughts on “A Day at the Onsen.

  1. Loved the post and photo! Made me laugh out loud and prompt Jason to ask what I was reading;). I am so happy Al got to visit and you had such great adventures. Sounds like a must do….just amazing… Will you go back?
    Miss you loads!!!!

  2. I love your blog! My little boy is about 2 months younger that your little girl – she is adorable! I was hoping you might share what type of sling that is? I love that it’s adjustable AND mesh – so nice for hot days!

    1. Thanks Leah! I bought this sling in Japan, and I haven’t seen one like it in the U.S. but I’m sure we could find it if we really searched! This is a link to the brand http://en.kenko.com/shop/en-us/commodity/X711630H/ (mon bebe, but not the French brand je porte mon bebe)…I didn’t use a ring sling when the baby was little, we were more Ergo/SleepyWrap people, but this wrap is great because it’s light, packs up tiny, and just helps hold her on my hip wihtout all the extra fabric of a normal sling. Sometimes she resists babywearing these days because she can’t see enough of what is going on, but she stays pretty content in this one. Let me know if you find one!

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