Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Onsen = natural hot spring = awesome

After our early rise and hike at Shiga-san, we were ready for some maxin' and relaxing. Conveniently, we were near Kusatsu, a city renown throughout Gunma and Japan for it's large volumes of high quality hot springs. Apparently, a dip in these hot springs (onsen) cure every illness but lovesickness. The town's 1200m above seal level and surrounded by mountains (like the one we hiked)! I normally hate really 'touristy' places, but this town was super cute and homey (in a Japanese meets Germany homey kind of way), touristy as it may be.

This is the major attraction of the town: Yubatake (field of hot water). The spring's water comes here before it is divided among the many onsens in the town.Here's a view from above as the steaming water moves down.

Tomomi and Yoshii wash their hands in the warm cleansing water. I bet Shooma was jealous... or sleeping.

A spa in the middle of town where people can relax... with their feet in warm onsen water.

Sulpher does a body good... but smells like crap! There was a sign saying that Kusatsu is one of Japan's "100 places of peculiar smell".

This couple was SOOOO CUTE! And they gave us free onsen-manjyu (one of many types of Japanese sweets), a freshly and naturally hot steamed bun filled with zesty bean jam!

Mmm - Laurel had a sweet pea and sweet bean paste manjyu, Alex is holding the water chestnut bun and red sweet bean jam, and mine was a sweet bean outside and water chestnut inside. We did a swapparo and surprisingly, the green pea was my fav! Who'd a thunk peas could be this delicious? I also continue to get green tea EVERYWHERE (work, supermarkets, restaurants, seriously everywhere) and I STILL loathe it... I thought I'd become accustomed to the taste... not so much. My coworkers are genuinely stumped as to WHY I don't drink it... they are genuinely stumped by the concept that I just don't like the taste, so I usually end up drinking it in spite.

There was an area where 7 different onsen were together. This was the sign for the one called "The Devil's Kettle"

Somehow, we became ghosts at the Devil's Kettle. Ironic? Or maybe Alex's sweet photo skills.

These are little jizou. They're statues of monks who have achieved enlightenment. When it starts getting colder out, it is considered polite to put hats and/or scarves on the lil guys out of respect to keep them warm.

Along the paths, we found some symbolic rocks stacks. This marks it as a place that provides a gateway to the spiritual world.

After walking around Kusatsu, I finally had my first onsen bathing experience. All are gender segregated and most are public. Public baths are very common in Japan... and really, many countries in the world and throughout history (Roman Empire, baby!).

The routine goes: get naked in changing room, forget the towel and walk into the showering area unreserved. Take your time showering (sitting on a stool and using the detachable shower head) while ya yuk it up with friends while cleansin'. Then, go have a nice relaxing dip in the warm onsen water. Each onsen has different levels of minerals and elements in them. Usually you just stay in one until you're good and pruny and then get out, rinse off again, and leave. BUT, at our onsen, there was a special kind that had 5 different "pools" of water which were each different temperatures and mineral compositions. You were meant to spend a certain amount of time in each "pool", then move on. Follow this routine for ultimate healing powers!!! I don't know if I got everything cured, but I sure felt nice and relaxed after the experience. Say goodbye to modesty before your trip over here people, cuz we're going to an onsen!

*Sorry no pictures here, what with all the nakedness.

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