I couldn’t quite believe that I’d made it through two weeks in Korea without a trip to the sauna. As one night of partying led to another and I ended up in Jeju with my sister for a week, the opportunity just never quite presented itself. By the time I’d found my feet in Tokyo a trip to onsen was top of my things to do.
When I visited Tokyo last summer, Amanda and I had intended to pay the well known Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari a visit but it just never quite happened so sensing a theme of missed sauna visits, when Amanda proposed a Saturday sauna session, I was ready at the door faster than lightning.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of onsen, it’s not just the little box style sauna room squeezed into the corner of the washrooms at your local gym. It is so, so, so much more than that. Going to the sauna in Japan in a theme-park trip-like experience, it’s a family day out – put simply, it’s just awesome! Not to mention they give you little bracelets which you use to pay for everything in the park – it’s like contactless on your wrist.
The onsen was quite a way from Amanda’s house so when we finally got there, I was ready for a nap and lunch…but mainly a nap. We popped our shoes in the locker at the door, changed into our yukatas (which are much nicer looking than the PJ-style clothes you get in Korean saunas…just saying) and headed into the main hall.
I felt like I’d walked into some kind of wonderland; restaurants serving up everything from beautifully presented trays of sushi to steaming bowls of ramen lined the hall, carnival stalls challenging me to throw ninja stars for prizes we all know I had no chance of winning, a fortune teller calling out to me in Japanese I may one day in the future understand.
Priority 1 was ordering food. By way of keeping everything traditional, we decided to opt for Korean food… go figure. It was, an one could have predicted, rather sub-standard but I had great fun scaring the wits out of the Korean girl working behind the Korean restaurant counter by placing the order in Korean and Amanda polished off a solid two-thirds of the bottle of rice wine so she was rather merry too.
long little nap, time was ticking on so we wandered off to the baths for a soak. We actually ended up going out the wrong way and found ourselves in a foot spa or what is supposedly a foot spa. Now I realise the creators of this onsen and I may have got our wires crossed because our definitions of ‘foot spa’ were obviously not aligned. I’d been expecting massages or at least tubs of bubbling water to pop my feet in but no, instead there was a “pebble-paved path” which is meant to “stimulate tingling in your toes” when you walk on it.
Well we tried it and it bloody hurt! These little Japanese kids were prancing along this path like it was the best day of their lives and even the old people were making it round but goodness knows how because that path was evil! You know that feeling when you stand on the pointy side of a plug and it hurts like hell? (Come on, it can’t just be me that has done that) Well it feels like that…again and again and again. Rather unimpressed, we sat at the side in the sun for a while – correction, I sat in the sun and Amanda hid in the shade – before heading in to find the baths.
Two hours later I emerged a different person. Having readjusted to the whole being naked thing, responded to the curious Japanese stares with a smile, run from the cold pool to the hot sauna and back again roughly five times and sampled all thirteen available baths which, despite boasting various magical properties, honestly all just like water at different temperatures with the occasional welcome addition of jets and bubbles, it was finally time to go.
Until next time…