Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nothing Like an Onsen

I'll admit, my first trip to the onsen was weird—a bunch of gaijin friends and I sharing a bath before a party. Not necessarily the way I planned on spending my Halloween. But once in the water, I quickly got over any initial uneasiness. That being said, it would still be many months before I’d go to an onsen again.

Fast forward to Taipei—we heard about Beitou hot springs and decided to go. It was a chance to check out the authenticity of their public bath since it was started by some Japanese entrepreneurs. Once we got there, we discovered that swim suits were required (i.e. we we’re planning on going in naked). What kind of bath is this? Clearly not Japanese.

This should have been the first sign.

Beitou, Taiwan
Beitou--No picture in the bath… that’d be weird.

I  like 温泉. I was starting to actively seek them out. I didn't just tolerate them--I actually enjoy my time at an onsen. That being said, it would take a couple more trips for me to start admitting this to myself.

I found myself in Kobe during my first half of Golden Week. After a full day each in Osaka and Koyasan, we managed to finish all the main sites of Kobe in less than a day. Sunday morning, we woke up with not much left to see. We ended up watching a movie, playing at an arcade, and then tried to plan the rest of our day until our night bus left at 11. After a late lunch and hanging out around the city… it was still only 3PM. What was left to do?

Well there was Arima, one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. And though technically a part of the city of Kobe, much like Beitou was for Taipei, it was more a hot springs town 1 hour out of the city proper. No matter—we had an afternoon to kill.

Not my picture… but again, it’d be weird to take pictures inside…

There’s something about relaxing in extremely hot water that is so rejuvenating. Any sort of  modesty, worry, or care in the world melts away as soon as you’re neck deep in water. In the case of Arima, it’s known for their brownish water: naturally brown from the iron and oxygen in the water (and not dirt, supposedly).

This by itself doesn’t prove that I'm an onsen addict. Going to a famous onsen because we happened to have some free time… that seems pretty normal. It's not like I've developed an obsession or anything, right? Right?

A few weeks later, I was looking forward to the Hita Fireworks Festival in Oita prefecture. My taiko group and I had weekend-long event playing a set at hotels, senior centers, and houses. In total, there were going to be over 15 performances, with a little over half on Saturday and the rest on Sunday. In the days leading up to it, all we talked about was how excited we were for the fireworks festival on Saturday night. After a hard day's work, it was going to be a lot of eating, drinking, and fun hanging out with everyone.

Wai Wai Club
Wai Wai Club, Hita, Oita Prefecture, Japan

Don't get me wrong--I was looking forward to all that too. But I was also really looking forward to the onsen we were going to before the festivities. After a full day of taiko playing, I just imagined how fantastic it would be soaking in one of Oita’s famous onsens. Secretly, I was as excited for the onsen as I was for the party itself. Does that make me weird?

Probably, yes.