If you are looking for unique experience while visiting the land of the rising sun, Japan, brace yourself to have a dip in their interesting and beautiful hot spring pool - locally known as ONSEN.
Credit to Tenkai-Japan
My previous short trip to Tokyo in late April 2012 had allowed me to spend some cheerful time with fellow Japanese friends in Hakone. Situated in Kanagawa, it is about 1 1/2 hours of express train ride from Shinjuku. There are few options for travelers to discover the beauty and interesting sceneries in Hakone. Check out Odakyu official page for more information on sight seeing in Hakone. (Detailed story on my Hakone adventure entry)
After a whole day journey discovering Hakone, my girlfriends and I decided to find a place where I could experience outdoor onsen. It was not supposed to be difficult since Hakone area provides excellent choices of onsen for people to choose. A quick taxi ride brought us to a relatively medium sized building, squeezed in between ryokan and hotels, where I was informed that the outdoor onsen is quite nice. While my girlfriends were making inquiries at the reception, I noticed people walking to this building in their yukata. I believe they were from the nearby ryokans or hotels.
You can just walk in without bringing anything, as many onsen places provides basic stuffs for you to use or rent. I was advised to bring my own towel in order to save up a bit on the entrance fees, and if you must use any specific type of bath or shampoo, you may bring them together. Whether it is an indoor or outdoor onsen, they do split bathing area for male and female patrons. At the place we went, I also noticed area or rooms for family (which I believe is for the indoor bath).
Before anyone could jump into the water, please make sure that you have cleaned yourself thoroughly at the designated place. Nudity is common here, so brace yourself once you entered the changing and bathing areas. This was my first time going to an outdoor onsen, so I was a bit doubtful of what am I supposed to do or not. Lucky I had my friends to explain the onsen's etiquette.
Since I came from a tropical country, taking a dip in hot water is not something easy - my body had to take some time to adjust to the water temperature. However, soon enough, I had found myself being pampered and comforted by the warmth of the hot water in one of the pools at the bathing area. Obviously onsen is one typical activity of Japanese people that involves interaction. You don't simply go to hot spring alone. Many of the patrons were in groups. While my girlfriends were explaining about the art and beauty of hot spring in Japan, I found myself engaged in few other casual conversations with them.
Just like a sauna, please do not attempt to stay in hot water for long time. After about half an hour, and of course trying all sorts of different pools, we decided to leave the place and head down to grab a drink and snack. Compensating the heat is of course a dash of cool drinks (which includes beers - everyone else was having that on the table).
I knew from my friends that not many people, especially those from muslim countries, are fond of trying onsen. Since Japan has so many beautiful onsen, I would highly recommend travelers to give it your best shot, for those who are adventurous.
I would certainly do it again when I am in Japan, next time. If it was not because of the nudity, I would definitely snap few pictures to post it on this entry. Nonetheless, the picture is pretty much the same as what I have experienced recently.