Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My first onsen experience!

Hello, hello!  So finally I'll be talking about my first EVER onsen experience! ♥ ♥ ♥
It's sort of sad in a way because I've visited Japan a few times before and not even once have I considered going to an onsen.  I suppose I must be more adventurous now. ( ”> w <” ) 

The onsen I went to was Kurama Onsen 鞍馬温泉).

It's located north of Kyoto.  It's easy to get there as long as directions are written down.  I went with my mom and we took about three trains to get there from Kobe.

 At the train station to get to Kurama.

Kurama is famous for being one of the homes to the 'Tengu', a legendary mythical creature of Japanese folklore.

Kurama was a very quaint little town; very pretty and natural located deep in the mountains.  Unfortunately we were short on time and couldn't walk through the town.  Instead we opted to take the complimentary shuttle bus to the onsen.

My first time riding a vehicle in Japan... x3

Outdoor view of the Kurama Onsen Ryokan 

The main entrance

Custom of removing shoes at the entrance

Okay, so here's a funny story.  My mom and I went through this entrance, took our shoes off, and put them into a locker.  When we went to the front desk, they told us that the onsen was actually outside in the opposite direction.

So we had to make our way back out and sure enough, there was a big long banner with Kurama Onsen written on it and and arrow pointing up a rampway.  They were probably thinking, "can't these foreigners read?" lol

Going up this ramp, there was a ticket machine and next to it, a small booth.

  We went to the machine and purchased two tickets and gave them to the lady in the booth.

I think it's wise to learn the kanji for adult (大人) (otona) and child (子供)(kodomo) before going to onsen/sento in Japan, just in case.  This machine did have buttons in English but sometimes there are ticket machines written in only Japanese.  Towel was written as (タオル). 

You can see the toilet room on the far left.

This is where you remove your shoes; I'm guessing you put them in the plastic bags first.  So if you're a decent person and care about the cleanliness of the lockers, you'll put your shoes in a plastic bag before placing them in the locker.

The next room was the undressing room and in it, there were 100 円 lockers.  What you do is put all your clothes and belongings into the locker, put a 100 yen coin into the slot, and you should be able to turn and lock the cubby, removing the key.

When you get back to the locker, you turn the key the other way and it should return your 100 円.  

For describing the undressing room, it was a moderately sized rectangular room with wooden flooring.  There were a couple of sinks before a large lighted mirror on the far left wallThere were also the iconic woven baskets to put items in.  But compared to the secure lockers, I'm sure most people would use the lockers over the baskets.

Now we're finally at the part where I went into the onsen!  Sorry it took so long.  Personally, I like all the details. 

I did extensive research before going on my onsen adventure and brought my own bag of toiletries containing: body soap, shampoo, a scrubbie, and lotion.

I found that this onsen did provide their own soap but I'm sure they appreciate the fact that I brought my own.  It's also nice since the smell of the body soap I used now reminds me of my awesome time at the onsen and sento in Japan. ^^

First I went out and sat on one of the stools where people are supposed to wash and scrub down before entering the onsen.  I noticed a few other ladies using their hands to wash themselves with soap instead of using a scrubbie.  I'm not sure if that's the norm but it's interesting to take note of.

I made sure to scrub really well and after doing so, I rinsed and made my way to the onsen.

It was so beautiful, even if it wasn't at its peak fall beauty (shown in the picture).  The air was fresh, not too hot or too cold, and there was a nice, soft breeze.  The sky was slightly overcast so there was no sun bearing down on us.  It was a perfect day for soaking outside. ^^

 I had to use a pic from online as there's a strict "no picture" policy within the onsen.

I've read reviews about this onsen and one of them pointed out that the water here is re-filtered and chlorinated.  There was a slight chlorine smell (similar to a pool) but it wasn't too strong and I wasn't particularly bothered by it.

The water was warm to the touch.  But as I slowly submerged my body, to my surprise, it was much hotter than I expected the longer I sat in the water.  I would find myself having to sit up on the edge of the rotenburo to cool off before re-submerging.  

We got there at around 13:00 and there was only one older lady in the onsen.  We stayed for about an hour and a half.  During that time, we saw a few others stop by.  It was really pleasant because it wasn't crowded at all and overall, it was quiet and peaceful.  We even had a sprinkle of rain!

As for the nakedness, I admit, I was slightly self conscious, but overall, I really didn't care much.  I'm a 'foreign ninja' and blend in (since people say I look Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean) so no one was really staring at me. 

In my family, at least the girls of our family (meaning my sister, mom, me, and omg, even my grandma!) are super comfortable being naked around each other.  We walk out of the shower naked as long as no guys are around and don't care if the other sees us naked getting dressed...  Okay, tmi.  lolololol  xD

Being naked in front of other visitors was actually quite enlightening.  Sort of like, we've all got the same parts and it's natural so there's nothing to be ashamed of.  In a way, it's a little bit like shedding off the pressures of society and just being bare in front of others in your most natural state.  

There was also an indoor onsen and we tried that one too.  It had its own wash area next to it.  The indoor onsen resembled a medium-sized, square hot pool.

The indoor onsen was also nice but I liked the outdoor rotenburo better..  Probably because it wasn't as hot and more natural.  Being indoors, all the steam and hot air is trapped inside and it's more like a sauna.  This was also a small room and that could contribute to the higher heat level.

After soaking, we towel dried, re-dressed, and headed out.  There was a vending machine conveniently located right outside the entrance of the onsen so I got a cold milk tea.  It was SO refreshing.  Wow, like it was the most refreshing milk tea I've had in my life.

I guess soaking in hot water or exercising or anything else that makes you really hot and dehydrated will make any cool drink super good. x)

So, that's my very first onsen experience.  After visiting kurama onsen, I decided to visit a few other onsen/sento in Gero but none of them compared to the awesome beauty of kurama onsen.  But I haven't visited all that many onsen in Japan yet so what I do know? lol

I highly recommend others visiting onsen on their trip to Japan.  Don't let the nakedness deter you.  It's an experience unlike any other and it's so relaxing! 


Nyanette said...

That place looks amazing, I've always wanted to go to an Onsen but I'm a bit nervous about being in there with strangers. I'd find it awkward, plus I'd stand out a lot because I'm quite tall for my age.

MiNapi said...

@Nyanette, It was very beautiful. I only wish I could drive in Japan because a Japanese friend of mine told me that most of the good onsen are deeper in the mountains which requires a car. D: But Kurama onsen was still very nice for an onsen closer to the city.

I think that if people stare, they would probably lose interest quickly. :) Everyone has a different appearance but at the end of the day, we're all Human. ^^ So I wouldn't feel too self conscious.

lovepirate said...

Thanks so much for sharing! *w* I enjoyed this post and your pictures a lot since I put going to an onsen on my to-do list if I'll ever visit Japan again. ♥

MiNapi said...

@lovepirate, glad you enjoyed it! I hope you post about your experience as well so I can read it. I can never get enough of onsen and sento. ^_^