Along with my other blogs, this has been updated and moved to a premanent home at www.accessj.com. Check there for more articles like this, as well as a growing collection of tips for living in and visiting Japan.
When I first arrived in Japan, our boss took my girlfriend and I to a local onsen. It was a little embarrassing. Not because my penis was twenty feet longer than everyone elses, but because I accidentally ditched the guy when I got in there.
First of all, sexes separated, presumably to avoid boner-issues. Then we went and undressed. When I had finished unravelling my huge penis I couldn't locate the Japanese guy anymore. I wandered into the bath room and looked around. I saw a selection of old Japanese men, none of which I had come with, and an anus: some guy was bent over double pointing his puckered sphincter directly at me. "Fuck this," I promptly though, and sat down to wash.
Well, it turns out the anus belonged to my boss. I guess I came across like a scared gaijin intimidated by naked nationals. To top it all, after that I lost him again, so I went and got in the hot pool outside, only to find he'd gone and sat inside. Whatevs. He got fired 6 months later so never mind.
An onsen is a hot spring. Some are natural, many are not (i.e. just regular hot water). I live in Nagano prefecture, which is famous for its onsen. I don't think there's anything particularly theraputic or special about the water, but some of the views are stunning. Most onsen in pretty areas are perched in the hills and have huge glass walls looking out over the vacinity. Very relaxing.
Onsen that are more than basic have several pools. One hot one (45 degrees C+), something in the middle and a cold plunge pool. Often there will be a pool outside, too, which is especially nice when it's really cold out there, or snowing.
Pay your 500yen, take off your clothes, sit down, get all soapy, wash it off and get in the water. After a couple of minutes you will probably want to get out. The heat itself is okay, but the relentless steam up the nose can't be good for you, and makes me feel a bit odd. Get out, wander about flapping your huge western wang, then get back in. Then, if you're me, get a bit bored, restless and confused as to why you really came in the first place.
Then the tradition is to drink milk, for some reason. My friends swear by it but I don't like that either - it's too thick for a steamed throat.
So all in all I don't know why I bothered writing this review of onsen when I'm clearly not that bothered about them in the first place! Well... thought you might be interested...