We’re now home from our (amazing!) trip, so look forward to detailed daily overviews as I sift through the 3742 photos I took over the fourteen days.  In the meantime, I’m continuing to feature a few specific pictures.

One of the favorite pastimes in Japan is visiting onsen or sentou.  What’s the difference?  The former are natural hot springs; the latter are public baths.  The line between them has been blurred, and the terms are commonly interchanged, with true onsen explicitly calling out the natural hot springs feature of their establishment.  Modern sentou create artificial hot springs by pumping geothermally heated water, so it’s easy to confuse the two.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari near Odaiba in the Tokyo area is considered a theme park sentou and is very popular with tourists.  A rundown on visiting:

  1. Take your shoes off at the entrance and put them into a shoe locker.
  2. Check in at the desk; you’ll get a key with a barcode that you can use for additional purchases inside.
  3. Pick up your yukata and change in the locker room.  Wear the yukata over your underwear (instructions for wearing it are on the wall), put your clothes in the locker, and walk barefoot out to the festival “street.”  This is coed, and you are able to (and should) bring your camera (any coed areas are camera-friendly).  This area offers food, tatami mat resting areas, and festival-type games.
  4. From here, you can visit the foot bath (coed) or the main bath (segregated).  Spring for the fish therapy for a unique experience.  The tiny fish nibble at the old skin cells on your feet, providing a gentle (if terribly tickling) foot cleanse.
  5. When you’re ready to leave, change back into your street clothes and check out at the front (settling all charges).

The bath area also confuses many foreigners.  Here’s an overview:

  1. After entering your gender-separated area, collect your two towels from the desk at the bath entrance.
  2. Choose a locker, and remove all clothing.  Remember tattoos are prohibited; you’ll be kicked out if one is spotted.
  3. Leave your large towel in your locker and proceed to the main bath area with only your small towel.
  4. Rinse yourself at the first station just inside, then wash yourself at one of the bathing stalls.
  5. Wrap up long hair with the small towel.  Drape the towel lengthwise on your shoulders, and tie the two corners now to the front of your shoulders at the top center of your forehead.  Then drape the remaining corners over your hair (gravity will keep them in place).  You can also dunk this in cold water to keep your head cool while soaking in the hot water.
  6. Finally, wander the many baths: large, small, jacuzzi, mineral.  Don’t forget the sauna and steam room, as well as the outdoor bath (ours was closed for renovations when we went).  Also, I was pleased to discover there is a cold bath for cooling off.  After all the hot water, it was very refreshing.
  7. When you’re done, rinse once more and return to the changing room.  Return to your locker to dry off, and put your yukata back on, drying your hair, etc., if you choose.

This is certainly a day-long activity, worth every relaxing minute and a great way to escape the stimulation of the city.  Enjoy your visit!

0 thoughts on “A Taste of Japan: Onsen/Sentou

  1. Reblogged this on BIGtinyWorld and commented:

    This was a totally different experience for us but one we were anxious to try. Now I can understand why the Japanese love it so much! Certainly worth a visit if you get the chance. Next time, we’ll find a true onsen for a real pampering!

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