We had a very ummmmm interesting experience today. We decided to get out of the city and into the mountains to visit an Onsen. Traditional Japanese Onsen are baths of natural hot mineral water (like hot springs) that the Japanese go to relax all of their stresses away. Some of them are out n the middle of forests and some in actual bath houses where the water is brought into inside and outside hot tubs. We learned a few very important Onsen rules while visiting through trial and error and wanted to share the valuable lessons we learned today just in case you ever wanted to visit.
1. When entering Onsen be sure to immediately remove your shoes and NOT walk all the way in wondering why the heck everyone is staring at you and your family like you are green with purple polka dots.
2. Shut your children up by any means possible- candy, money bribes, a new puppy, a slap on the head, anything really or else you will be looked like you have an arm popping out of your forehead.
3. Have the translation book and the Japanese speaking iphone app ready to go as soon as you walk up to the check in desk unless you are a world champ at charades because once you are outside of Tokyo nobody speaks even elementary English.
4. Learn the Kanji symbol for "Men" and "Women" VERY important when Onsen is separated by sex.... and even more important when your husband goes in without telling you while you are in the bathroom and you are trying to figure out which one to use praying that you don't walk into the wrong one!
5. Tattoos are not allowed in Onsen. Be sure to get special permission to go if you have them or else you will be turned away, thankfully we were given a heads up about this or else we would have been turned away in a heartbeat. Japanese criminals are tattooed so the public knows who they are, therefore if you are American and tattooed you will be looked at as a potential criminal in their eyes. Also, this may not be Onsen related but a very important lesson I learned today: NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER get a Kanji Tattoo in permanent ink on your body EVER NEVER EVER NEVER. You may spend the past 11 years thinking the meaning was something innocent and sweet but find out while in the country of said written language of your tattoo that it is not in fact nice and innocent and quite offensive. I was very upset about this today and NO I am not sharing my tattoo meaning. **Note to self: find good tattoo artist in Victoria, BC to cover this thing up**
6. Naked. Say it, embrace it and get used to it. Naked, naked, naked. That is what you will be at Onsen. We even brought our swimsuits and were told they weren't allowed so we went in just like everyone else- that's right, naked. (when in Rome right)
7. Onsen is HOT. By hot I mean hotter than any hot tub I have ever been in. Start inside and then migrate outside where the temperature in the air is cooler.
8. Children make a nice timer for knowing when to get out of the hot water to cool down, just like a turkey timer. If you look over and your children's cheeks are bright red and blotchy and they are starting to look dizzy get out and take a break. When redness fades and they are able to walk in a straight line without looking like they hit the Sake bottle you may get back in.
9. Towels are not for covering up with, they are for drying off. As a matter of fact you will solicit more attention by trying to cover up then just walking around in the nude.
10. If your kids get disruptive while in the bath tell them that they have to go hug the old lady in the corner- it gets them quiet REAL QUICK :)
11. The hot spring water will discolour all metal so remove your jewelry unless you want it to be a different colour when you get out.
12. Know when the last bus leaves and do not rely on the schedule in your pocket with out checking or else the entire bus will have to wait for you while the manager runs around getting the stupid Americans who didn't hear the first seven announcements, ha!
13. Have fun! Observe the locals (without looking like a sicko nudey looker) and just copy them.