This weekend I visited Hawaii! Well, not really. But I did go to a place called the “Hawaiians” yesterday. It’s a resort park with a Hawaiian theme, and it’s located in Iwaki city, about an hour’s drive from where I live. Our employer generously paid for our team to spend the day there – and it was a lot of fun!
The resort was really big. There was a four-story building containing a huge pool/water slide area, hot spring baths, restaurants, and more; there was also at least one adjoining hotel. I didn’t take many pictures, but I did get a shot of the inside of the building, where the main pool area was:
I tried a water slide for the first time in my life. The black one (above left in the photo) was the scariest; most of it was covered and totally dark, and it took a few unexpected turns and drops. But I loved it! We were also treated to a wonderful buffet meal, and a Hawaiian dance performance.
The water slide wasn’t my only new experience, though. I finally tried – for the first time ever – ONSEN. What is onsen, you ask? It’s the Japanese word for natural hot springs, and it’s a big deal over here. The Japanese have created lots of baths that use the water from the hot springs. The only catch, of course, is that the baths are public and communal…which means you wear the same thing that you wear when you take a bath at home. Which is, basically, nothing. Luckily, at most of the baths (including the one I went to yesterday) the genders are separated!
I’ve always been a little squeamish about the idea of trying public baths, and I’d been able to avoid it on my other trips to Japan. But I knew that this time, it would be inevitable, because I am here for so long, and it is such an integral part of the Japanese culture. Even though I knew ahead of time that there were going to be hot springs at the Hawaiians resort, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to try it. But after lunch, when some of my friends decided they were going to do it, I decided to be adventurous and take the plunge – literally!
Strangely enough, as soon as I entered the women’s bathing area and saw a bunch of naked people milling around, the idea of stripping down didn’t seem quite so terrifying. There’s something about being in a new country and out of my comfort zone that makes me feel less nervous about trying new things. It definitely felt kind of surreal, though, because it’s not something I’m familiar with. “Am I really doing this? Well, I guess so!” And that was that.
Japanese public baths are, of course, not for bathing. They’re for soaking. It’s all about relaxation and chilling out in some hot, steamy water. Therefore, you wash yourself before you get in the tub, at one of the spigots in the washing area. There’s a plastic stool to sit on, a removable shower head to hose off with, and shampoo, conditioner, and body wash provided. After that, you take your pick of the tub you want to relax in. At the onsen I went to, there were three or four indoor tubs, and one outdoors (behind a privacy wall, of course).
So what’s the verdict on bathing in a Japanese onsen? Well, it was definitely a unique cultural experience. Despite my nervousness, it was somewhat relaxing. I’ve got to admit, I don’t get a huge kick out of bathing in general, but it was fun to try the different baths, especially the outdoor one. And I noticed that my skin felt better yesterday, somewhat softer – maybe not entirely due to the onsen, but still a nice perk. Supposedly bathing at an onsen is good for you. Whether it is or not, it’s a fun thing to try if you really want to immerse yourself in the culture!
Between splashing around in the water park and soaking up the steam in the onsen, I definitely got my fill of fun and adventure this weekend. I wonder what new cultural experiences lie ahead? Bring it on, Japan! I’m ready for you!