Monday, 11 March 2013

Airing the Johnson in the Onsen

The main reason you come to an isolated Ryokan like Osenkaku is the outdoor onsen (rotenburo). Sure luxury ryokans have their own appeal - the food is often outstanding, the peace and tranquillity is divine, but the rotenburo is why we're here. We're also at Osenkaku in particular because it has a number of mixed bathing onsen. That is, you can nude up and take a dip with members of the opposite sex. Generally onsen are separated by gender. I always imagine nymphs cavorting in the onsen but in reality the whole experience is family friendly. The main game is to sit yourself down in the hot water and soak up, what the hotels claim, are the therapeutic and healthy aspects of bathing in volcanic springs. Really though there is nothing more relaxing than a long soak with your family in a gorgeous hot outdoor onsen with the snow gently falling.

The rotenburos, there are 4 (3 mixed sex and one women only), are nestled in rocks either side of the river that rages down the valley. There are warnings posted around the place about swimming in the river. The river is prone to flash flooding so it can be dangerous. The river is also fed by snow melt so it would be too bloody cold for my liking anyway. Two degree river water or 40 degree hot spring water? Hmmm, decisions decisions. It is a few minutes stroll, at most, from the hotel down to the Rotenburo past a collection of the most eclectic snow covered artifacts and and knick knacks imaginable - and of course the ubiquitous vending machines. At the rotenburo there's a small hut with male and female change room where you strip down, grab your tiny little towel and then head for the water. We usually bathed in the large main onsen. We could then not crowd other people and hopefully not disturb them having a drowsy soak with our excitable toddler. We were usually met with smiles and nods. I think most people were delighted to see us with a little girl there.

Just shallow enough

Most of the time we were in the rotenburo we were there alone but occasionally a few more people would take a dip while we were there. Sometimes you have to make eye contact to avoid seeing dangly or jiggly bits but every one is there for the same reason you are. To perve. No, not really. Quite a broad cross section of Japanese society takes the plunge. We bathed with older retirees and young families or couples. A Japanese man, probably in his 30s, struck up a conversation with us in his halting English. We chatted about the ryokan food and bears and the anniversary of the tsunami which had occurred exactly 2 years to the day prior to today. Initially I thought he was saying that there had been another earthquake today. He must have thought I was an idiot for not knowing of the the big one 2 years earlier. But I did realise my mistake and I hope we sorted it out. The only other westerners we saw in the onsens while we were there were a group of 3 or 4 guys from somewhere in Europe (they weren't speaking English but I couldn't quite hear the language).
30 something degrees in and snowing out

Georgia loved the rotenburo. There was a bucket for, I guess, pouring water over your head and Georgia had a ball scraping snow off the rocks into the bucket and watching the snow melt. She enjoyed putting her head back and trying to catch snow flakes in her mouth. She just loved the whole experience of just splashing around and soaking in the water with us. In fact it was a struggle to get her leave.

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