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|Akita Prefecture (28 photos).||Aomori Prefecture (25 photos).||Onsens of Shikinejima Island.|
|Other Great Hot Springs (57 photos).||Other interesting photos, stolen mostly from Japanese library books.|
In Japan, the custom of bathing is, perhaps, one of the most widely celebrated customs of the nation, for it is enjoyed, not just in the privacy of one’s home, but in public places specially designed to accommodate large numbers of individuals who have no problem with stripping down naked and relaxing in the presence of pure strangers. For most Japanese, there is no better place to do this than at onsen, or hot springs, which are located by the hundreds in every region across the nation.
Types of Onsen
There are many different types of onsen available. Some are mixed gender, though most are gender specific. Some are located indoors, while others are found outside. Some belong to a ryokan, or Japanese inn, and some are a part of public bath houses. Onsen can also be classified according to the type of minerals or healing properties they contain.
Because their water comes from underground springs, usually as a byproduct of volcanism, they contain many minerals which are said to soothe, relax, and heal the body. Simple Springs have the smallest mineral content, but are still good for blood circulation and long-term rehabilitation. Sulfur Springs smell like rotten eggs but are said to be good for the arteries, as well as for many other disorders. Carbonate Springs are good for blood circulation and neurological disorders, and Sodium Chloride Springs, or Salt Springs, are good for joint inflammation.
Iron Springs are also good for inflammation of the joints, as well as for menopausal discomforts, and chronic skin diseases. Acidic Springs are hard to bathe in due to the irritation they can cause to the skin. However, the acid has also been known to help the skin of people with chronic skin diseases, and Acidic Springs are said to be good for diabetes.
Because of the different healing properties, onsen first became popular over a thousand years ago in Japan, though they were originally limited to the aristocracy. Their usage, however, soon spread to include the military, whose battle wounds could benefit from the healing nature of the water, and today, everyone in Japan can enjoy onsen, including foreigners vacationing in the country for the very first time.
Packing Your Kit
An onsen kit will make your first onsen go smoothly. It should include:
Onsens generally sell all these items, but you’ll find it cheaper to pick them up at a convenience store before going. Soap and shampoo are free at higher-priced onsens.
Bathing in the hot springs is not a complicated process, but there are a few things everyone should know before getting into the water. First of all, onsen are enjoyed naked. Clothing should be removed and left behind in a locker or basket in the changing room. It is also important to wash one’s body before entering the onsen, as the water is shared by everyone. An area, usually containing a stool and shower head, will be provided where visitors can sit and scrub themselves clean.
If individuals are worried about being naked in front of strangers, they may be able to use a small washcloth to cover up their privates as they walk around, but it must be removed before entering the onsen. Many foreigners admit that bathing naked is a very liberating experience, one that should not be passed up by anyone who has the chance to visit an onsen while visiting Japan.
If you are interested in natural California hot springs (or want to see your photo if I met you at a California one-please sign my guestbook if we met), check out my California onsen page or Steve Karl's page! His is much more detailed in terms of maps and directions.
Another good Japan page is Jens Olsen's Hot Spring Index , which has comprehensive coverage of natural Japanese hot springs. Or try Nick's Guide to Onsens in Japan
For more photos of Japan, please go to my other page, Dave's Photos of Japan.
Or go to Dave's Bonny Scotland- for more photos of many other countries.