Yesterday I had my first onsen. An onsen is basically a bath in a hot spring in Japan. The minerals in the water are thought to be beneficial for all types of things related to the body.

Ours was at Hakone Yuryo near the Hakone-Yumoto Station. Most onsens are public. Guys are with guys and girls with girls. You are in the buff just hanging out in a bath with other people.

My wife and I decided to not be so adventurous and spring for a couple’s private onsen.

Here’s how it works:

Once we arrived we checked in at the front desk. The place was packed. We were given map and brief instructions and told to return by 6:00. Our reservation was from 5:00-6:00. We also received two towels.

Note: There’s no bathroom in the room. Go pee before you start the onsen. Trust me.

We got to the room, took our shoes off and switched to the provided sandals.

What you do next is change into the tiny robe hanging on the wall. Next go outside. Disrobe and use the shower (just a shower head laying on a ledge). Make sure to scrub your body thoroughly.

Get your mind out of the gutter. Add a bathing suit to that mental image of me doing this.

Next, step into the bath. It was about 40 degrees Celsius or about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn’t as hot as I thought it’d be.

Then you sit and relax.

Private Onsen at Hakone Yuryo

Private Onsen at Hakone Yuryo

I had to sit on the ledge a few times to catch my breath and cool off a bit. It’s a similar feeling to sitting in a hot tub, sauna or steam room for too long.

For the record I’m pretty decent at hanging in a sauna or steam room thanks to high school wrestling. If you do an onsen I do not recommend doing more than an hour.

My wife got out to start drying her hair around 5:40. I took the next 15 minutes in as much as I could. The first thirty minutes were pretty brutal but it felt like I got into “the zone” after that. But once I got out and hurried to redress before our time was up I’m glad I didn’t stay in any longer.

It was peaceful. And one of the most relaxed states I’ve ever been in. It was the best meditation session x50 and you felt it mentally, physically and emotionally. Your skin should be soft for days (I’m on day two and can attest).

¥3900 for the two of us was well worth it for the experience. I could do one of these at least once a week.

– Josh