Onsen, or how I learned to stop worrying and get naked

 I’ve never been one for tearing off my clobber in public. Call me British, call me old fashioned, but I just prefer to leave some things to the imagination when it comes to swimming in open spaces or preparing to get sweaty in a steam room. Besides, I can count the number of chest hairs I have on one hand and despite repeated, pathetic attempts to bulk up, have the same skinny frame I had at the age of 18.

Naturally, being this het up was going to be of no use when we made our first visit to an Onsen, a Japanese hot bath. There’s no keeping on your ‘beach nicks’ to preserve your modesty in these small, local spas. Everything is left to hang out so your body feels the benefit of the piping hot natural water.

Keeley and I headed for the Jakotsu-yu Onsen, hidden down a back alley in the Akusaka district of Tokyo. Having slipped our shoes in a locker at the entrance and stumped up ¥450 each to get in, we went our separate ways: Keeley to have a long soak with the ladies of Tokyo, me to stretch my legs in hot water with the city’s salarymen.

Having shoved most of my clothes in a locker, I tentatively shed my boxers and made for the water. Despite being the only gaijin no one paid the least bit of attention to me. Frankly, why should they? They’d seen it all before and couldn’t care less. Lesson in getting over prancing around naked done, I slipped into the 45 degree ‘electric bath’, scolded my feet and felt current surge through my finger tips. This was not quite the chilled out experience I had in mind.

Fortunately, Jakotsu-yu Onsen has two sublime outdoor baths that don’t give you shocks every time you slide into the water. A steaming one at a delightful 42 degrees, as well as an icy plunge pool for boosting circulation. Having soothed myself in these alternately for half an hour, stifling my gasps as I slipped my toes in the plunge pool, I made for the wash area, where Tokyo’s workers were rinsing themselves clean after a hard day at the office.

Clothes safely back on, I headed for the exit, Japan teaching me another vital lesson: no one cares if you strip off (in the right place, of course). Hopefully this will stand me in good stead for next week’s trip to the Onsen of Hakone.

 

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