September 26, 2022
In Trading Pizza for Ramen, Jacob and his family experience their first onsen on a trip to Karuizawa. Jacob is not alone in his fear of onsen. The first onsen experience is shocking for most foreigners travelling to Japan.
What is an onsen? Onsen means hot water spring. It is a natural hot spring bath, packed with minerals good for your health and clean, refreshing water naturally warmed from the many volcanoes found in Japan.
Onsen are communal, which means that everyone bathes together. They are also clothing-free; yes, you soak in a hot spring pool with strangers in nothing but your birthday suit. They are an integral part of Japanese culture, and Japanese families don't think twice about bathing naked in a communal bath with others. It is quite common in many cultures, from the geothermal pools in Iceland to Turkish baths and hammams of Morocco; it is not uncommon to bathe in groups.
The best Onsen baths are in beautiful locations with mountain or ocean views. The best ones are found outdoors in the countryside as part of traditional ryokan or fancy hotels. Once you get past the idea of "Naked, helpless, in a pool of hot water," as Jacob would say, onsen are an incredible experience.
A few things to keep in mind:
- No clothes!
- Shower before you get in!
- Put your hair up and keep it out of the water
= You will be given a small towel. Don't use it to wash in the onsen. The question is… what will you cover with a tiny towel?