After having lived in Japan for a year, I finally screwed up the courage to visit an onsen, Japanese hot spring, when my friend came to visit me. While people may perceive Americans as being really open and liberal in sexuality as depicted by Hollywood, an oxymoron in “skin-ship” does occur, as evidenced by most Americans’ squeamishness by Speedos and nude beaches, as opposed to the Europeans.
What caused my hesitance to visit an onsen is the fact that typical Japanese onsen etiquette requires everyone to strip down to their birthday suits prior to entering the water (onsens separated by gender). I was told that you’d be given a small face towel so that you can chose to “strategically” cover whatever body part you want; the towel is supposedly only big enough where you do have to make a decision.
Anyways, with my friend’s visit, we both decide to shed our “onsen virginity” and see what all the hype is about. We went to the largest onsen resort in Hokkaido, Noboribetsu, which is also the home to sulfur springs. The particular onsen we visited has baths with various different types of minerals, i.e. sodium, calcium, sulfur, etc; it even has several outdoor pools.
On arrival to the onsen, we are first given lockers to place our valuables. Then, we are led to the ladies’ changing room/restroom where we then proceed to divest ourselves of our clothing and are then given a towel which is pleasantly larger than expected, about the size of a hand, not face, towel so that it does cover much of the front side of the body so that we do not have to make a decision on which area to cover “strategically.”
On entering the pool/onsen area, we first encounter rows of tiny cubicles where we wash ourselves with the provided handheld shower nozzle, shampoo, conditioner, soap, and face wash so that we will be clean when we enter the onsens‘ waters. Then, it’s off to the different baths; we changed about every 5 minutes or so, but after about 4-5 different baths, we were ready to call it a day as too much of the hot water makes one get dizzy. During this whole time, we are able to tote around our little towels and cover ourselves while moving from bath to bath or put it on top of our heads while we are actually in the bath (since towel in onsen water is a no-no).
Overall, a pleasant, relaxing time that is really not as bad as it had initially seemed. Consider ourselves now initiated.