Dealing with the gloomy cold of winter requires some specialised tactics. Personally I like to cover myself in hot water bottles and drink plenty of mulled cider, while glaring angrily at the snow and rain outside. Cranking up the heating, making hot chocolate and wearing big slippers; without a doubt, these are all very comfy and great ways to get through the cold.
However, when it comes to escaping the winter cold Japan has an advantage that the UK just can’t replicate. I’m not talking about kotatsu either, because I’ve checked and you can buy those luxurious heated tables online so it doesn’t count.
I’m talking about onsen, of course. They may run all year round, but the appeal of sinking into a deep bath of intensely hot water becomes far more appealing to me at this time of the year. Unlike the UK, Japan has a network of volcanos across the country, allowing humans (and monkeys) to take advance of the water heated deep underground, which reaches the surface as hot springs.
Onsen are firmly rooted in the culture of Japan, and definitely get their share of attention in anime. Dealing with the culture shock of nude group bathing can be a challenge for beginners though. The first time I entered an onsen was with a friend I’d met on the same day, which felt like a fairly quick acceleration of our friendship. As crazy as it may seem to get naked with strangers, there are some onsen where that is the least shocking thing about it.
For those looking for a more unusual onsen experience, Yunessun Hot Springs Resort and Spa may be top of the list. Based in the Kanagawa region of Japan, the resort offers onsen which switch out water for less predictable alternatives. Ever considered taking a bath in red wine? What about coffee? If you’re looking for a more traditional Japanese option, Green Tea onsen are also available.
Honestly, I’m not sure if I’m curious or a bit grossed out at the idea of sharing a bath of tea with strangers. Clothed bathing is allowed here which improves my image of the onsen a little, but I don’t think I believe the suggestion that these onsen could be good for your health.
Another onsen making pretty dubious claims about health benefits is Tamagawa Hot Spring, up in Northern Akita. There have been stories of improvements to visitor’s skin diseases, asthma, and a host of other illnesses. What makes the onsen remarkable is its alarmingly high level of acidity. At about 1.2 pH, it’s somewhere between lemon juice and battery acid. Apparently Tamagawa Hot Spring is also quite radioactive, so personally I’m more worried this location could be more harmful than helpful.
Sand onsen are a very popular alternative to the classic onsen, and use geothermal energy in almost the same way. This time it’s sand being heated, and then piled onto visitors by onsen staff. Guests wear a yukata (like a light kimono) then spend about 10 minutes sweating in the steam. Famous locations include Ibusuki and Beppu, but you might even remember seeing this in a few of the Pokémon games!
We love onsen here at HYPER JAPAN, so check out our other onsen articles for more about hot springs and hot spring culture.
Wine onsen: Yunessun Resort/Wikimedia