If you had asked me a few weeks or even a few days ago whether I’d be willing to bathe naked with a bunch of vacationing Japanese and some of my fellow classmates in an onsen (Japanese hot spring), I would have looked at you, laughed hysterically, and said “NO!”. Funny, how things and people and attitudes change- sometimes with no forethought or very quickly.
On our way to Takayama, when our tour guide was explaining the concept of onsen and the complicated etiquette that goes with them, I was one of the few who gave a vehement “NO WAY!” when asked if I would take advantage of this possibly once in a lifetime chance to take a dip in one of the most beautiful and prestigious onsen. In fact, I was almost in tears at the very thought of it!
But as soon as we were given a tour and got to see the hotel and the onsen for ourselves, my mind was immediately changed. The area was so supremely gorgeous- surrounded by mountains on either side and rolling countryside. It was quiet and peaceful- like stepping into a dream. The onsen itself was crafted in much the same way- very natural and peaceful- or, as the Japanese say “yuumei mitai”. The steam billowed up like soft, invisible fluffy clouds and imbued a sweet and relaxing moisture into everything it touched. The room was lit by the most natural light possible, and the sound of waterfalls filled the interior.
Separated by a glass wall, was the outdoor open-air springs. It, too, was ethereal in quality, with rough stones lining the edges as walls that looked like the craggy mountainside surrounding the hotel and city. Greenery tumbled down in folds and rivulets from planters, and clung to the walls. There were sweet smelling flowers as well as a bubbling waterfall and statuary. A wood partition separated the men’s onsen from the women’s, and looked to be made of dried bamboo.
Stepping into those waters was like stepping into liquid Nirvana. Heat seemed to seep into my very bones, relaxing me to my core. Leaning against the marble sides and gazing up at the nighttime sky and scenery was amazing- words cannot properly describe it. The moment you stepped into those waters and sat down, you could forget all the things that might have held you back, such as shyness and modesty. There was no being naked- there was just a pure sense of being.
It is one of the most amazing and breathtaking experiences I have ever had, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Had I not forgone my initial shyness and modesty, I know I would have regretted never stepping foot inside that remarkable and peaceful onsen. That night, as I lay on my futon, I slipped into one of the most restful and relaxed sleeps that I have had in years. As an insomniac, that’s definitely saying something.