Hey there future interns and anyone interested in some Japanese culture!
We are currently in the process of forming our team for this upcoming summer, and are really excited to soon share with you the exact plans for our 2017 English Camp program! In the meantime, we'd like to begin a series of weekly posts in order to get our interns excited about the prospect of living in Japan, even if for a short time! The blog posts will also serve, for ANYONE interested, as a source of personalized accounts regarding Japanese lifestyle and experiences available to any and all who would like to find themselves in Japan at some point. There are countless reasons to visit, and a truly unlimited amount of things that these blog posts could cover which might cause readers to open up a new tab and start checking ticket fares, but I thought I'd start off with a personal favorite:
Japanese 温泉 ("onsen") and 銭湯 ("sento")!!!
"Onsen" and "sento" refer to hot spring-style bath facilities in which you can sit down, submerge, and relax. Many would describe a trip to onsen or sento as a truly heavenly experience. Many onsen and sento have multiple kinds of baths, dry saunas, steam rooms and other accommodations that make for a supremely relaxing and reinvigorating time. One cool thing about these facilities is that there isn't only hot water baths, but also cold water baths and baths that differ in terms of chemical/mineral composition in order to benefit your body in different ways! When people go to onsen or sento in Japan, it is often after a long day of hard work, or after a meal or some physical exercise, or really for any reason at all!
The difference between onsen and sento is that onsen are typically "nicer," bigger, more ornate facilities with a lot of different accommodations, and in some cases, are even set up like mini indoor amusement parks of relaxation (check out the famous Oedo Onsen located in Odaiba, Tokyo if you want to be seriously wowed). Sento, on the other hand, are traditionally more neighborhood-ish, localized spots and are cheaper than onsen. In Tokyo, they *always* cost 460 yen (about 4 dollars) unless you want to use the sauna as well which generally brings the price to 1000 yen (less than 10 dollars). However, even onsen tend to run under 1000 yen per visit unless they are particularly famous. Sento are typically more casual in terms of atmosphere and setup, but no less relaxing.
Onsen and sento really are the epitome of rejuvenation, and make for an incredible experience - so much so that you may find yourself returning to your favorite local spot DAILY if you enjoy them as much as we do. Pro tip for those feeling adventurous: make a trip out to hike Mount Fuji and reward yourself afterwards with a trip to nearby Fujiyama Onsen. The exhaustion you'll be feeling after the hike will almost literally melt completely away by the time you emerge from the onsen and you'll get a good meal in you as well.
My personal favorite onsen experience was at the legendary ほったらかし温泉 (Hottarakashi Onsen) in Yamanashi Prefecture, just 2 hours away from Tokyo by car. This famous onsen is one which sits literally on a mountain face in the middle of the Kofu Basin, looking up at Mount Fuji. Hottarakashi opens one hour before the sun rises, and closes after the sun sets, so many travel in order to have one of the most surreal and incredible onsen experiences possible due to the views possible at this time.
I rode out from Tokyo with a few friends one weekend in a rented car in order to catch such a view. We left at roughly 4 am and stopped once along the highway in order to cram onigiri (rice balls) into our mouths as a makeshift breakfast. We arrived at Hottarakashi just before sunset, qeued up, payed, received our towels and locker keys, changed, and plopped ourselves into the water of one of the outdoor baths on the mountain face in order to witness what was surely one of the most beautiful sights we'd ever been lucky enough to see.
The two pictures above were borrowed from the internet, but below is one of the many pictures I personally snapped of the sun descending on the Kofu Basin. I won't show you the actual view of Fuji - it's something you should experience for yourself!
If you remain interested in Japanese hot spring bath experiences and notable locations, here are some links you may want to check out:
Thanks for taking the time to check out our newly budding blog! Check back for more over the coming weeks and please don't hesitate to add us on your other favorite platforms for regular posting about Japanese lifestyle and culture as well as our own latest news regarding our mission over at Come On Out Japan!