So, we went to a themed onsen today. The theme being the Edo Period (old Tokyo). You go into a large hall, taking your shoes off, natch, and go and select a YUKATA (think kimono/dressing gown but gorgeous designs), then go and pay and get given a barcoded wrist band which you can then use to pay for everything for the rest of your visit.
You then go through to another locker and take your clothes off, leaving them in there, and put your yukata on for the rest of your visit. There's then a choice of three things to do: we started off with the mixed (with yukata's on) footbath, which was outside with nice hot water (you could see the steam coming up from it) in a long windy 'trough' like line. The bottom of this was stones of varying sizes and throughout you heard cries of 'it hurts', 'it hurts' (in Japanese obviously), intercepted with lots of giggling. Mainly from me and my friend. Some of the areas were okay to paddle through; others pure torture. Regardless of the pain though, everyone continued through to the end, with the odd sit down to splash feet around in the water. Baring in mind this was a cold January day and we werer outside, this was actually lovely to do. We'd all been given thick overjackets to throw on top of the yukata's. There was a hot fresh spring bath at the end to sit and paddle in too.
The second 'thing' to do, was to wander around the 'authentic Edo street' where there were lots of shops and lots of food and drink available. Everything was paid for by having your wrist scanned and settling up at the end, so you didn't need to carry money around. They also had some very very bad 'entertainment' in this area. But it was too painful to watch it.
The main reason for going to an onsen though, is to go into the hot communal (single sex in the case of this onsen) baths. Now, the make up of people who go to an onsen: families, groups of friends, couples..... a cross-section of society basically.
Anyhoo, you go into another changing room and get given two towels - a big one (that you leave in your locker) and a small one you take in with you. There are also toothbrushes available at this point if you wish to have one. If you have a tattoo (or your period) it says you're strictly prohibited from going in.
So, we stripped off and carrying said little towel, went through to baths area. The first thing you have to do is have a total and very thorough wash. This is done in little open cubicles, which have dividers between them. You're supplied with shampoo, conditioner and shower gel and a lovely hot shower. You're also given a little basin to pour water over you to rinse and a small bench to sit on while you get clean. A lot of women washed each others backs. Gal pal and I aren't quite that friendly yet. And we're Gaijin and Brits so, one step at a time. After a good wash and rinse off you soak your small towel with cold water (cos it's nice to put on your head when in the hot baths) and just pick a bath to get into. This onsen had about 6 large inside baths of pretty similar temperature. One with jacuzzi and with some kind of slime-ish thing in that smelled lovely and made your skin feel lush.
The whole nudity thing didn't bother me and, basically, I didn't give a shit about it (again, I emphasise - I'm a Brit. We're not into this whole naked thing!!). There were all sizes, shapes and what not there, there were lumps and scars and, well, nobody cared about what anyone else looked like, so I didn't either. For reference, Japanese women aren't into 'hair maintenance'. Well, I'm sure some people are interested to know that. There was also a freezing cold bath, which was heaven to use to cool down a bit, and a large sauna and steam room. In case you weren't hot enough already.
Leading from this was a large outdoor area. Remember: naked, January, Japan, brrrrr. But once you'd got into the hot pools and tubs out there it was lovely.
Anyway, the whole thing was so totally nice and totally relaxing. Back in the changing rooms, there were sterilized hairbrushes to use, hair mousse, dryers, etc, and foot acupressure machines which hurt like hell. But boy did my feet feel wonderful afterwards. So, you get dried up. Put your yukata back on, dispose of your towels, and wander off (for more food in our case).
We went back to the foot bath later but it was dark. We had the sense to not try and navigate the stones in the dark, but took great delight from laughing at other people trying to, while we just dangled our feet into the hot water until we felt too cold.
After falling in love with Christon Cafe, I persuaded gal pal to come with me and she loved it. Had another couple of mates join us and finished off the lovely day with a lovely evening. Even though they were out of sangria by the time we got in. Bastards. I had to stick to red wine instead.
Holiday is now over, and it's back to work tomorrow. Holidaying in your own city has got to be one of the best things to do!