Today I went for an onsen and as I walked out of the place I wondered what is it that makes it so good. I must say that I am quite addicted to them however not to the level of most Japanese woman. They will study up on the best ones in an area when they go on a holiday. The main point is the water and the level of minerals along with the heat being an important factor also. Too hot and you don’t really get to relax, too cool and you are not getting the benefits. The perfect temperature is 40-41 degrees celsius.
Onsen technique for best results.
What you need to bring – Large towel for drying, small towel for scrubbing, your favourite soap, shampoo and conditioner (there will be product supplied at each shower station), razor and any other personal grooming items.
1) Strip off in the change room and don’t worry that you and everyone else are naked. If you are a bit shy then use the smaller towel to cover your parts. Some woman may use a bigger towel to wrap around themselves. This is usually the case in mixed onsens. (Note- there are no mixed onsens in Hakuba)
2) Walk into the bath area and find a seat at one of the shower stations. Give the area a bit of a hose down. They are usually very clean and it is more out of habit than for washing the area.
3) Take a seat and give your body a good rinse over.
4) Head over to the bath. I usually choose places with outdoor baths as I enjoy the fresh air and some scenery to truly relax. Try to clear the mind of all your worries and stress and soak your body. If you get too hot just sit on the side of the bath until you cool down again and then repeat. In winter time when the snow is falling you may like to do a roll around in it between soaking. This is not advised for people with heart complaints.
5) When you are totally relaxed it’s time for a scrub down. Go back and sit down at the shower station. Fill up your bowl which is also supplied. There will be some figuring out of the taps and you will either get a slight scold or a burst of freezing water while you adjust it to your perfect temperature.
6) Shampoo and conditioner is first and take your time to massage your scalp with both.
7) Soak and overload your small towel with body soap and start scrubbing away at your body, exfoliating your skin to a sheen. Scrub your feet and in between your toes. Rinse your body off using lots of water. There is an endless supply that comes off the mountain during the winter in Hakuba so you don’t have to be thinking about water conservation and droughts.
8) Time for a shave for the men. Usually the body soap supplied is good to shave with otherwise you can bring your own shaving cream. A word of warning is never, I repeat never use the razors supplied. They are new but they are from another era and will scrape your skin like a scaling knife. You will walk out of there looking like you were bathing with Jaws. Lots of soap once again and a nice sharp razor and take your time. The whole experience should be at a leisurely pace. This will be the closest shave of your life.
9) Total rinse off.
10) Back into the bath to relax for a few more minutes.
11) That’s it. Back to the changing room as a new person. Ready to take on the nights activities or rejuvinate you for your next day on the mountain.
If you are concerned about being in a bath with naked people then you can find a private one to enjoy the experience however you really should learn to control yourself and not stare:) Go on, liberate yourself from your own personal body image issue and just do it. I have seen so many of our guests in total fear of the prospect of being naked in front of a bunch of strangers but once they have tried it they are asking which one they should try next. Some of my favourites are Mimuzuku, Karashita, Highlands, Garden no yu and Juro. Bathing in Japan is all about relaxing. This is your time, so take your time. Western culture has turned the experience into a rush and a chore. Change your way of thinking this holiday and enjoy this time honored experience.
The Phoenix Wing Chalets do an excellent private onsen package including a romantic dinner.