Here at NAF Atsugi, they try to get us gaijin off base as much as possible by providing various tours to different locations around Japan. They are all set up through MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation). Nick and I experienced our first MWR trip a couple of weeks ago; when we went to the Yunessun Hakone Hot Spa. Spas are very popular in Japan. In fact, it is rare to see a swimming pool in someone’s backyard, much less at a hotel here. Instead the Japanese frequent spas and onsens. An onsen, meaning “hot spring” is a public bathing facility usually set up around a hot spring. Japan has so many of these due to the fact that they are a volcanically active country. There are many types of onsen, some are outdoor, indoor, or both. Most of them you go nude, but there are many family-friendly onsen where a bathing suit is required. The spa that Nick and I went to was of course one of the bathing suit necessary onsen.
As you can see in the picture below, there is a separate section of the water park that is nude, the "Mori No Yu Zone"! (We didn't make it to that part, but surprisingly it is not something that is seen as strange here!)
One of the indoor pools...this one was too crowded and had too many kids splashing and screaming for Nick and I to even try to get in...like most of the pools, this one might have appeared cold, but was probably warm!
Besides being warm water instead of cold, the main difference in the spa Nick and I went to and a water park in the US is that at Yunessun there was "flavored" water.
There were many types of spas. My very favorite was the, “Green Tea Bath,” it smelled so good I didn’t want to get out! There was also the, “Floating Bath” where you literally floated on the surface like in the Dead Sea! There were a couple of baths that Nick and I didn’t get to try because they were too crowded, aka they were the most popular among the Japanese. One of them was the “Japanese Sake Bath”…this one of course smelled like Sake. The other one was the “Dr. Fish Footbath,” it was where you went and put your feet into a pool of water and let the little fish nibble off the dead skin from the bottoms of your feet! Gross! (However, I would’ve tried had the lines not been soooo long to get in!)
Sitting in warm spas all day is peaceful and relaxing, yet made Nick and I sleepy. We took a break mid-day to eat lunch in one of the “resting rooms” (a bowl of Ramen with chopsticks of course) and take a nap the Japanese way! It is very common to be on a train somewhere and see people sleeping, or walk down the street and see someone snoozing on a bench…the Japanese like their sleep! So going to a hot springs was no different. In the “Resting Area/Relaxation Room” the floors were covered with tatami mats, where people would sit down at the kotatsu tables to eat their lunch, then lay down for a little nap afterwards! Nick and I decided, “when in Japan be like the Japanese” so we took a little nap ourselves right there in the middle of hundreds of Japanese people!
The trip was an experience, and one we wouldn't mind doing again! It seems strange to go sit in a pool of flavored warm water with lots of people, but really it is quite relaxing...and like I said before...
"When in Japan...."