It wasn’t until my fourth trip to Japan that I paid my maiden visit to an onsen (hot spring). Not that I didn’t want to but… as you may have known, one has to strip completely naked in public baths and onsen facilities in Japan. I was shy.
During my fourth visit to Japan, I decided that I was going to an onsen, by hook or by crook. No more excuses.
I instantly became a big fan and an avid promoter of onsen as soon as I tried for the very first time. Since then, whenever someone asks me about things to do in Japan, I’ve always recommended onsen, as if I have a stake in Japanese onsen (of course not!)
Jozankei, an onsen town in the outskirts of Sapporo, naturally became the destination of my first onsen visit as I was in Sapporo for a short stay then.
Koinobori (carp streamers) were flown everywhere around Jozankei as the Children’s Day (5 May) was drawing near.
I bought a day trip package at the Sapporo Station. The ￥1800 package (http://jozankei.jp/en/pac) includes a return bus ticket from Sapporo Station to Jozankei and an admission ticket to one of the participating onsen facilities. The package is a bargain as a bath ticket in Jozankei alone may cost somewhere between ￥800 to ￥1600 while the price of a one-way bus ticket from Sapporo Station to Jozankei is ￥770.
The trip from Sapporo Station to Jozankei took an hour plus. It was a rainy morning and was freezing cold for someone from the tropics, though it was already spring, officially. While shivering inside my winter coat, I hurriedly walked in one of the nearest participating onsen facilities as soon as I got off the bus.
Jozankei View Hotel, where I took my first ever onsen bath.
For those with tattoos, sorry, you are barred from entry by most onsen facilities and public baths.
It turned out that overcoming my mental hurdle was a lot easier than I had thought. And it also turned out that my nearsightedness helped! As I couldn’t see others clearly without my glasses, somehow I managed to convince myself that others couldn’t see me too. This may sound silly but I don’t mind being silly as long as I can enjoy the greatness of onsen.
After having a destressing and relaxing soak in the onsen (after washing my body thoroughly of course), I was amazed at how much it had warmed my body. After leaving the hotel, I had no problem walking around the town for the next couple of hours, no longer feeling cold despite the drizzle.
Kappon, mascot of Jozankei. Notice what he’s carrying?
One of the several public foot baths in Jozankei.
Why do Japanese love onsen? I guess I know why after trying it myself. The “tsuru tsuru” (silky smooth) feel left on the skin and the sound and deep sleep after an onsen bath are probably the answers. In fact, I’ve come to believe that onsen is the secret behind Japanese longevity. It’s a precious gift from the nature and Japanese people really know how to appreciate this gift.
The next thing on my wish list: to stay overnight at an onsen ryokan (Japanese style inn)!
Writer: Li Ling.
A big fan of Japan and Japanese language and culture, who has visited Japan as a traveler four times since 2012. But she knows Japan has more charms waiting for her to discover.