Saturday, June 26, 2010

Onsen = Hot Spring = Bliss

I am both proud and ashamed to report that we finally went to the onsen just up the street from us. It's in a big hotel and we'd heard it was the only one in town with a rotenburo (open air onsen). The couple we took over for told us it was their favorite in town. It's only about a block from us. We love hot springs. So, why hadn't we been before? I think it was a combination of things. 1) the lethargy we experienced when we first arrived--after a day of new jobs, new people and a new language the idea of doing something else new that involved getting naked with strangers seemed a bit much. 2) the innately counter-intuitive nature of paying $5 to bathe. and 3) soon enough it was summer and who wants to essentially sit in a hot tub when it's hot outside?

So, what was different yesterday? We decided we were too sick to go to the overnight party at the cabin. I'm not so much recovering from my sinus infection as I'm growing accustomed to it. I'm on antibiotics now but don't seem to be getting any better. We had been inside all day. It was cloudy, cool and drizzly outside and it sounded amazing to be in hot water with the cool air on our faces while looking out at the lake and mountains. Also, isn't steam good for clearing your sinuses?

Upon arrival we had one of those classic awkward travel moments. We were standing in front of two doorways with Japanese writing above them and no stick figures to indicate which door we should each enter. There was a blue and a red curtain. It reminded me of a similar experience I had in Krakow, Poland. I was confronted with two doors--one with an X and the other with an O. Apparently, Poles know which one they are, but I had to give it a think. If I remember correctly, ladies are Os. Trisha, Bret? Well, in this case I noticed that the bathroom sign for ladies was in red so I chose that door. Luckily, I saw the ladies' shoes lined up in their neat row.

After that it was smooth sailing. You strip down to nothing and go into the steam room are where one pool is (with a beautiful view out). You grab a tiny plastic stool to sit on and a plastic bowl to pour water on yourself with. You sit in front of a steamed up mirror and alternately spray yourself with the showerhead, soap up, repeat. They had soap, shampoo, etc. and I finally got to try charcoal bamboo face wash--quite lovely, actually.

After you're all clean you can get in the indoor onsen (hot) or the outdoor one (very hot!). It was so relaxing--like a $5 spa experience. The other women didn't seem to look at me weird or pay me much mind at all. There was a little maybe month old baby sleeping on her mom's lap while her mom cleaned herself. Later the grandma brought the baby into the pool and was singing to her. John said there was a little girl on his side with her dad.

All these memories of my other experiences in public bathing cultures rushed back to me--the dodgy Moroccan hammam, the opulent 300 hundred year old Turkish bath in Istanbul and the Gellert Thermal Baths in Budapest . Now I live in a bathing culture and can do this all the time. I'm definitely going to make a habit of going, especially in the winter when it's about the only way to get warm.

Maybe you're wondering, is it weird to be naked with strangers? Only for about the 1st minute of the first time you do it.

Here's a photo of the cinnamon bun scones I made this morning. Sorry, I look at so many food blogs, I don't remember which one I got the recipe from. I also made a butterscotch pie and a rhubarb pie yesterday but those weren't as pretty.

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