Atami and a Japanese Onsen

Wow! It’s been a long time. I feel rusty….especially since this post is about a trip that I took over a month ago now. At the beginning of December I went to an Onsen in Atami and then to Kamakura.

Japanese girls are possibly even more obsessed with food than American girls. From left to right: Carolin, Hiromi, Atsuko, Junko, Satomi, all enjoy “fried something on a stick”…just like in ‘Murrrica.

This was my first experience navigating the trains of Japan alone. And by ‘navigating the trains of Japan alone’, I definitely mean that my friends gave me very specific information about which trains to get on, which stations to get off at, and the exact times of those trains and stops. And a friendly Japanese man who spoke decent English also helped me for one leg of the journey (it required three or four transfers total to get to where I was meeting my friends). So. Almost independently. Except not. Whatever, I’m still proud of myself.

The last leg of the train ride revealed some real sized Japanese mountains along the coastline, and I was very touristy and obnoxious, taking photos out of the train’s windows. It actually reminded me of being in southern Italy a little bit, and Atami itself was a tiny bit reminiscent of Naples, mostly because of the steep, winding streets, the buildings being so close together, and the city being nestled between the seaside and the mountains. The mountains which I can see from Ota strike me as “impressive hills” rather than mountains….but, I really am not sure where I have any right to be a mountain snob, as I’m from Wisconsin.

My friends met me at the train station and we made our way back to the hotel. The road down to the hotel was so steep that an old man who was walking behind us came suddenly tumbling down the hill, clearly unable to catch himself. We stopped him from rolling any further down and helped him to his feet. A nearby shop owner came out and talked to the Japanese girls, and escorted him inside his shop, where I assume he made sure he was alright and called a doctor for him.

The hotel was very serene; our room’s floor was entirely made of tatami mats, with floor to ceiling windows looking out toward the ocean. The hallways of the hotel had real rock faces along one side. The hotel room was discounted because the outside onsens were closed for remodeling, so we could only use the inside ones.

An “onsen” is the Japanese word for natural hot spring, and they build a lot of these resorts and hotels and spas around them. (Some places you stay overnight, some you can jut visit for a couple hours if you l

ike). Because Japan has so many active volcanoes, there are thousands of hot springs scattered throughout the country. The only thing I’ve ever really encountered that I can compare these to are the public baths in Budapest…but those are still quite different. They are akin to hot tubs only in that the water is hot.

When I entered the onsen, there was a antechamber with cubbies for our robes and towels and slippers, two blowdryers, a couple of sinks, and some nice body lotion. The next room was the onsen, with two pools of steaming water side by side, and about 10 bathing stations with mirrors. The stations had a stool for you to sit on, a small tub (like, feet-sized small), shampoo and soap, a moveable shower head to rinse off with, and a scrubbing file (like the kind they attack your feet with during pedicures). The Japanese consider good hygiene to be very important; washing yourself before entering the onsen is compulsory, and after you finish washing your hair, you wrap it up in a towel so that itdoesn’t fall into the onsen water. (I don’t understand this, but you just do it.) The water is pumped up directly from the hot springs, meaning it’s full of whatever natural minerals happen to be down there (this varies from location to location), and is not full of chlorine. New water is continually pumped in, so you’re not sitting in old, dirty water. The temperature of the water is apparently around 102 degree farenheit…but this onsen had two pools, one that was very hot, and one that was “holy shit” hot. I went in both, but I had to warm up in the “cooler” pool for quite awhile before my nerve endings were numb enough for the hotter pool. So mostly, onsens are just for relaxing with friends, while you’re naked (Yep. You have to be naked, but most onsens are separated by gender). Apparently some foreign women have had some problems at onsens because of their larger breasts (as in some Japanese women tend to be very forward in their curiosity, and as to touch them, or something) but I’ve never experienced that. My friends and I actually had the onsen to ourselves when we were there, so it was very comfortable. There are supposedly some medicinal benefits to onsens, but I’m not knowledgeable about these.

All in all, very enjoyable, I’d definitely do it again. I’ve included pictures of the meal we had in Atami as well…I don’t remember what I ate…I may not have even known what some of it was at the time, but I tried everything. The Japanese girls did the ordering, and the served a sweet house plum wine with the meal that was delicious.


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