Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Last EPIC Journey Part 6: Kinugawa Onsen, bathing with nekkid people

The Last EPIC Journey Part 6: Kinugawa Onsen, bathing with nekkid people

Tues Feb 9/10

If you thought the other ones were long...perhaps this is not the entry for you. I must describe this with great detail, as it was an amazing experience..yes, an AMAZING experience.

Firstly, let me explain in my own words, that a Japanese onsen is a hot spring bath. In majority of onsens, the baths are separated by genders and require one to bathe nekkid with other people. The baths are very healthy - rich in minerals, etc. To experience a hot spring is to experience real deal Japanese culture. Eating a piece of sushi doesn't it cut it. hahaha...I talk like I'm an expert, but I'm far from it kekeke. A ryokan is a hotel/inn with a hot spring and traditional Japanese rooms with tatami floors. Ryokans serve traditonal Japanese food and the cost to stay overnight usually covers dinner and breakfast. An additional 150yen ($1.50) is charged for the use of onsens. Yukatas (spring kimonos) and slippers are provided in the rooms and instead of western beds, Japanese rooms are supplied with futons, pillows and blankets that are set up by the hotel staff before you sleep.

On to the novel...

Trains are better than taxis!
How could I have forgotten this? Trains are better and faster than taxis. We were running late, so I stupidly thought that taking a taxi to Takadanobaba (Mellers' station) would get us on time. WRONG! We got there 20 minutes late and called Mellers. She was already on her way to Asakusa station, so we hopped back on the trains to reach Asakusa station. I was totally prepared to tell them to go ahead to Kinugawa and we'd meet them there, but they waited for us. I'm so lucky that Mellers is so chill!

CHOO CHOO to Kinugawa Onsen
Mellers introduced us to her friend Marie, who is superawesome cool. We spent the 2h 30min train ride talking about randomness keke. Since we had missed the regular train we ended up taking the express train. In retrospect, even though it was a bit more expensive, it was a good experience for Chris to try and it was comfortable! The scenery changed to mountains and fields...and snow! We definitely weren't in Tokyo anymore. Tokyo was cooolllddd and there was a snow drought there. Mellers told us that everyone wanted snow in Tokyo, but there hadn't been much.

Taxi Scammer
We finally arrived at Kinugawa Onsen station. Ahhhh the air is so tasty and clean here. We took photos around the area and then waited for the bus. We took the bus to our Asaya Hotel where we were staying. Wahhh the hotel is beautiful! I knew this from pictures, but seeing it was even better. We left our stuff with the hotel as check-in wasn't until 2:30pm. We requested a cab back to the station as we wanted to go to Nikko to see the temples. Taxis take a while to come...seriously. Our taxi driver tried to convince Mellers and Mary that he could drive us to Nikko and wait for us as we toured around and come back. He would charge us $40/person. What a scammer....train tickets were only 300yen ($3.00) and would take 40minutes and a bus there would be really it only cost us $8.00 to get there. They were so funny! Marie said that just because we spoke English didn't mean we were stupid tourists kekeke.

Oyakodon, Toilets and A Nice Walk
Chris and I were pretty hungry so we all went to get food. We ordered Oyakodon which is chicken, egg, green onions in a bowl of rice. It was so tasty. Marie, Chris and I had to use the washroom, but the toilets were the squatting kind. (looks like a urinal in the ground) I just sucked it up and used it, but Chris and Marie were having none of that. Marie found a sign that said western toilet and they rushed there. hahahaha. We missed our train and wouldn't have gotten to the temples in time, so we decided to spend the rest of our day at the onsens.

We decided to walk back to Asaya Hotel. We somewhat remembered how to get back. We hit the 7/11 to get alcohol and snacks for later at night and Mellers and Marie got oden. We asked for directions and everyone kept saying ohhh 30 minutes away. We took our time and made a few pit stops visiting a small shrine/temple and Mellers made a mini snow man holding on to our vodka. It was pretty slushy too. We eventually got back to the hotel and scoffed at the whole 30 minute thing, as it only took us 20 mins to get back.

Checking In
We checked in and were escorted to our room by a traditionally dressed older woman. She pushed our cart of bags, to our horror! We weren't raised to let an older person push our stuff! She didn't let us push it...ohhh are parents would be smacking us now. We got to our room on the 12th floor...yes, we were on the very top floor! Our room was beautiful! Very traditional and relaxing. We took pictures so please check them out later. The lady literally explained then Chris and I decided to forget asking Mellers to translate.

We rested for a bit and then got ready to go to the onsens. We put on the yukatas that were in the closet. That meant we were wearing nothing but underwear under it. Of course Chris and I changed without showing, still putting off the inevitable.

The Moment Has Come! Onsen: bathing nekkid with other nekkid people!!
Ever since I mentioned the onsen/ryokan experience to Chris we have been debating whether we should actually do this. Getting nekkid and communal bathing is a must in Japan, but this is not something we could do naturally. We seriously stressed about it, no matter how many times Mellers and Marie told us it wasn't a big deal. "Who cares? These people won't see you ever again, etc" They were so nice trying to comfort us. Last time Mellers tried to convince me to go to a public bath I almost cried in fear. I don't like looking at my body and can't imagine displaying it to everyone else.

After taking pictures in our yukatas we grabbed our small and big towels and went downstairs to the indoor onsen. We took off our slippers and drank a bit of tea. We went over to the baskets to put place our clothes in. I swear Chris and I just stood in front of our baskets staring at them for a few minutes. I was breathing in and out and laughing nervously. Ahhhhh alsdfjsdlfjasdlfjsd I couldn't get out of this one! We already paid! I couldn't chicken out. One last breath and then off went the clothes. I took my small towel with me and followed them out.

Once I saw everyone walking around so naturally, I felt a little better. No one was staring anyone down making things awkward. Of course I was still supershy and somewhat scared, but I think making this obvious, would only bring more attention towards me. We sat in front of the shower stations and we showered at our own station before going into the bath. I must say that when you shower like this, it is really relaxing and you spend time cleaning and pampering yourself. While we washed our hair, we talked casually like nothing was out of the ordinary. By the time we finished washing ourselves, I didn't care anymore. I am who I am, and I would enjoy this experience.

We stepped into the onsen and boy was it HOT! I'm really not used to this heat, but taking it step by step, was bearable. Legs went in first, then waist, then the rest of my body up to my neck. Ahhh so relaxing once the whole body was in. There was something like a hot spring fountain in the middle. We made our way to it and I put my shoulders under relaxing. I can see how people just forget about the time and stay so long. The steam from the water wafted around.

We changed onsens and headed to the upper one which was even hotter, but the window was open in that room, so it was a combination of cold air with a really hot bath. It was really hot, so I stayed in there with them, but did not lean against the wall where the water was coming out like the rest of them.

After that we went into the sauna...holy moly hot. I felt like we were toasting ourselves like bread. I felt like I had grill marks in my body ahaha...suffice to say, I didn't stay there long. At some point I couldn't tell whether it was the water from my hair and face dripping down, or my sweat hehe. I left before the rest and dipped my legs in the cold bath.

We all showered again before leaving. In Japanese culture and in movies, there is a tradition of having the back scrubbed by another person/relative. Well hey, we were all used to being nude anyway and we were friends so...we were all sitting beside each other...we scrubbed each others backs in a line. No, it wasn't gross and no, it wasn't weird. This was really a life altering experience for me. I am more comfortable in my own skin now. Not to say that I'm going to go around being an exhibitionist or anything, but yeah, I'm really glad I went. It was more comfortable and superawesome fun with Mellers and Mary there, so I'm really happy they came with us. I'm sure Chris feels the same way.

After showering, there is a vanity area, where people can dry their hair and use the lotions and creams. We headed upstairs to the outdoor onsen. HOLY CRAP cold air! hahaha. We squealed and ran to the bath. I think the older ladies were laughing at us. It is so nice to have cold air combined with a hot bath. The steam was coming off the water kind like those science experiments when things are frozen. The scenery was beautiful and we couldn't help but speculate whether someone was up in the mountain spying on unsuspecting bathers. We lucked out whenever we went to bath, as it was never supercrowded. We knew there were a lot of people there, but we mostly shared the baths with a few others.


OMG...the dinner buffet blew me away. Any foodie friends I have would have gone nuts! There was so much food to choose from and yes, I took photos!! There were queen crab legs, fresh sushi, hot egg custard, DIY shabu shabu, steak, salads, a plethora of desserts and so much more..literally!

We ate for 2 hours! ahahhahah...we ate so much!! It was incredible. Soooo freakin' good!! I have decided that I need to live in a ryokan. I would probably die from eating so much everyday...ok...once a month then?

We were all pretty food drunk or in a food coma when we left. We were pretty giddy and then Marie did this funny walk and we burst into laughter. We were laughing so hard we all fell to the carpet and went hysterical. A few people passed by us wondering what the heck was going on. We couldn't even stand and were laughing there for maybe 10 minutes? It was so funny! We couldn't even speak! Mellers videotaped it...I need to get that video from her!

When we got upstairs and turned on the lights were surprised to see the futons had been prepared for us. We took photos and then we tested them. Oh my gosh...heaven...this was heaven. I had overeaten, died and gone to heaven. We wanted to steal the pillows, futons and blankets. This is a danger zone...with my sleeping disorder, I might not ever wake up!

Mellers had booked a package for us to go to the hot stone spa for an hour. We were booked in and given a hard plastic bag with towels and spa clothes. We went in and changed. Just before entering the spa, we were required to drink two cups of water. It was hecka hot in there of course. The hot stones looked like graves lol...there were beds of hot black stones. We put our large towels on top of the stones and lied down.

It was relaxing yet soooo hot and everytime I moved, the sound of stones could be heard. I tried not to move around so much, but eventually half-way through I had to leave and drink more cool water. I passed by the girls and they were passed out hahaha. I took time outside to cool off a bit. I went back in and finished the rest of the time. Chris was out. She could barely get up and wanted to stay there longer hahaha.

We went back to the outdoor onsen again. We ran into the bath ahhaha and we played some games where we had to name tokyo train stations, celebrity couples, colours, celebs we'd like to party with, etc. Anyone who couldn't name something on time, got splashed by the three of us. The onsen at night is really nice and relaxing.

After the outdoor onsen, we went back to the indoor one. I felt all my stress disappear and was more relaxed than I had been in a long time. Chris and I were talking about how we felt so clean and fresh after this experience...that and our skin became pretty white ahahaha. Once we had all finished bathing we headed upstairs.

Our plan was to drink all night and play games. Mellers hit her futon and she was off to lala land for the rest of the night. She lives a crazybusy life like me, so she really needed the rest. Chris stayed awake for a bit, but soon followed Mellers. Marie and I stayed a wake a while longer talking and drinking and finally slept. Initially I thought I would listen to my ipod, but it was dead and I didn't need much help once I lied down on the heavenly futon.

I told you it was a novel! I really wanted to put in every detail I could remember so that I would have it chronicled for myself. So yet, another experience to add to my life. I would definitely do it again!!

-Sam ^__^

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