Ever since my first visit to Japan, almost 20 years ago, I have always loved visiting the country’s great traditional hot springs 温泉. My first visit to an onsen was in Nita , in Shimane-ken 島根県. Although I had read much of the etiquette of the onsen, I was lucky enough, on that occasion to have my brother-in-law Gyo, a real afficianado, to show me the ropes.
On my many subsequent visits with Megumi めぐみ, my wife, we always tried to plan our tours of Japan staying in hotels and ryokan that had their own onsen. One memorable trip was to a small hotel with its own onsen in the beautiful little mountain town of Tsuwano 津和野町, also in Shimane-ken. This hotel had a private onsen that could be booked, and where Megumi and I could relax together. We made a reservation for that night, and were told to meet the manager at the entrance to the hotel, wearing yukata 浴衣 (summer kimono) and sandals. He led us through narrow streets of the town to a beautiful garden which contained the outdoor bath. Walking back to the hotel afterwards, we might have been strolling through the Edo Period 江戸時代, and the above picture might have been from our guide book.
However, as a gaijin I have always felt more comfortable visiting onsen in resorts, where there are many visitors, including some Westerners, rather than take the possible risk of embarrassing my self in more local sorts of onsen, where I felt that the bathers from the surrounding area may look oddly at an “outsider”, epecially a foreigner. I had felt this way about the local onsen in my home town of Nishinomiya 西宮市. We had often eaten at the restaurant of the Yamato Onsen in Nishinomiya; very good, traditional Japanese food at a reasonable price, but I had always been a bit shy about entering the bath section on my own. Leaflets and posters showed a modern “Super Onsen”, but with a traditional design. Much of the onsen is outdoors, on the roof, and there is a tatami 畳 rest area under a shelter.
Finally, during the recent Obon お盆 break I had my opportunity to try my local onsen. Some of Megumi’s family visited us from their home in Matsue 松江市, and one of them was Gyo, my original onsen “guru”. When I suggested a visit to the onsen in the evening after our Obon lunch party, everyone was very keen. After a year and a half in our new home town I finally took a bath in the city’s onsen – AND IT WAS GREAT. I can’t wait to go again.
Onsen is one of the parts of Japanese tradition and culture that makes Japan such a special place for me to live in, and together with my life as owner and teacher at me English school, Smith’s School of English, Kawanishi スミス英会話川西校 has made this the best time of my life.
Smith’s School of English, Kawanishi
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