… a lot has happened since my last blog entry, and here I thought I would post more frequently living in Japan and all. I guess not. Well, enough about my short-comings, let’s talk about all the fun I’ve been having, like my most recent adventure where I stripped down to my birthday suit and hopped into a public Onsen!!
Mike had a three day weekend, so we decided to travel to the Izu Peninsula to scout some climbing areas and check out the local scene. Friday morning, we found ourselves awake and out the door at silly’o’clock in hopes of beating most of the usual weekday traffic. We were able to get down to Joyama (a climbing area on the Peninsula) around 10am without getting ourselves too lost. As we readied our climbing gear an older Japanese man approached us, using the very little English he knew, he asked if we were climbing the rock face towering above us. We nodded our heads and he gave us a big smile and nodded back. Looking back on that moment I imagine that his thoughts probably went something like this; “These two morons are climbing in THIS heat?!? Good luck you stupid Americans!” OK… maybe those weren’t his EXACT thoughts, but I’m sure they were close. Anyway, the approach to the climbs wasn’t bad at all, but the heat was KILLER (and KILLER as in, “it will kill you”, not “cool”). All I know is that I was pretty much drenched in sweat upon arriving at the base of the climbs. Mike did what Mike does best and compared the illustrations in our Japanese guidebook to the wall to see what climbs would be doable whilst I, on the other hand, meandered around in my own little world, snapping pictures and taking videos of the wildlife. We were able to get in two, one-pitch climbs before surrendering to the heat and happily making our way down to the river. After cooling down and rinsing off in the river, we set off to check out the beaches!
The narrow mountain passes eventually lead us to a beautiful, rocky coastline. We found a volcanic sand beach nestled nicely in Suruga Bay where we enjoyed the crystal clear blue water and grabbed a bite to eat.
Once the sun began to set we decided it was time to find the Ryokan (Inn) where we would be spending the night. We drove up the winding coast through many a small fishing village until arriving at our destination. We had booked this Ryokan room online the night before and according to the website there was a shower in the room. You may be thinking to yourself, “Why wouldn’t there be a shower in the room?” Well, most Ryokan rooms do not have showers and many even have shared bathrooms. “WHAT?!?!”, you say… Yeah, my thoughts EXACTLY! There I was, all excited that we found a room with a shower. We checked into our room and I ran to the bathroom only to discover there was NO shower!! Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, I’d just go a night without showering, but on this particular day, I’m most certain I sweat more than I ever have in my LIFE and I felt repulsive!! Here’s where it get’s interesting… Mike, being your average dude and having experienced this before, strips down, puts on his Yukata (robe provided by the Ryokan), heads down to the Onsen (hot mineral spring bath) and on his way out, casually tells me to do the same. As he’s doing his thing, chillaxing down at the Onsen, I’m in the room, freaking out, searching my phone for tips on how to properly use an Onsen. You see, Onsens, like many other Japanese traditions, have certain rules one must follow to ensure proper etiquette. I have a hard enough time trying to order a meal from a picture menu, never mind trying to explain to an angry Japanese woman that I didn’t know I was supposed to shower before I entered the Onsen.
Here’s the method:
1) Strip down and put on your Yukata (assuming you’re staying at a Ryokan)
2) Upon entering the Onsen, disrobe, place your belongings in a locker or basket and proceed to the showers
3) Grab a stool and bucket, if one isn’t already there, using the shower head or faucet rinse off the stool, take a seat and clean yourself, you dirty, dirty person (Is that too many apostrophes in one sentence? Yeah, probably. Do I care? No.) 😉
4) If you have long hair, put it up
5) Carefully submerge yourself in the super hot bath water (do NOT put your head under the water) and enjoy
6) Once you’ve made a prune out of yourself, rinse off (or don’t), dry yourself and get dressed (if you’re a chic, they usually have hairdryers and such so that you can puurrrty yourself up and whatnot)
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “What’s the big deal? Those rules don’t sound overly complicated?”, and you know what, I totally agree with you. Looking back on it now, it’s not a big deal at all, but at the time, I was tweaking out!
I digress… There I was in our room, in my Yukata, laying on the Tatami floor trying to psych myself into doing this when Mike walks back into the room… He ask me what I’m still doing there and I reply, “I’m scared!” He laughs and tells me that I’m being ridiculous. This banter goes back and forth for a few minutes until I finally got up the courage to get naked!
I slowly walk into the room leading to the Onsen, as if something was going to jump out and bite me. “SWEET!”, I think to myself as I look around and find an empty room. I take off my Yukata and place it, along with my towel, in a basket and proceed to tip-toe in a I’m-super-creeped-out-right-now fashion, to the Onsen room where the bath and showers were. I can only imagine that if any Japanese person could see me, they would be laughing hysterically, as I was visibly paranoid. I grabbed my stool and started the process. I sat in the bath for about 10 minutes, half relaxed and half freaking out over the possibility of someone else entering the Onsen before I was able to get dressed. As luck would have it not one soul stepped foot into the Onsen while I was there. Oh happy days!!
In conclusion… Did a Japanese woman get to see me naked? No. Did I freak out over nothing. Yes. Was I proud of myself? Heck YEAH! Would I do it again (even if there were other ladies present)? Yes, absolutely! Soaking in that bath is just delightful and totally worth all the anxiety in the world!
Moving on… The next morning we headed to the opposite coast to check out the sea cliff climbs. It was FAR too hot out to climb, so we just explored around the cliffs. There’s a nice walkway that meanders through the woods, right along the coastline. It was absolutely breathtaking! It reminded us of Acadia National Park in Maine. After walking down the path to a little village and getting some ice cream, we returned to the car and drove further North to another small village where we got on a tour boat to check out the coastline from the water. It was a fun ride in the somewhat-rough seas!
It was a fabulous weekend and we will most definitely be returning to the Izu Peninsula for more adventures! And now for the video (WARNING: I AM a nerd, so you may find this corny and/or nerdy):