A trip to hot springs?
I remember one business meeting I attended and the quizzical look of my Belgian business partner when our Japanese host suggested a trip to hot springs together. We knew him very well, but…, a trip to hot springs, … together?
However, from the Japanese perspective, the invitation to enjoy hot springs was equivalent to us inviting a guest to visit a museum, some places to discover our culture and society.
In Japan, they are so fond of them that enjoying a special hot spring is the major objective of a short trip. You take your car, or hop on the train, to go to Kusatsu, enjoy the bath, sometimes several of them, and come back in the evening, or the next day, refreshed and relaxed.
Why are the Japanese so fond of hot springs ?
Hot springs are usually located in mountainous beautiful natural sites. It’s an occasion to evade from the city and enjoy the best of volcanic activity: hot waters. You spend the day walking in the countryside, in the forest very easily. Then, hot springs are waiting for you. You can enjoy them and then a nice meal.
Hot springs are socializing places, quite similar to the Roman baths. If you go with friends or partners, the experience of enjoying the hot spring together will create a new bond, like you have received an initiation and now, you belong… It’s also an invitation to contemplation, quite similar to yoga practice; the hot spring knocks the air out of your chest, whoooo, and then you inspire air again, feeling like a new woman. When you resist the heat a little while, you get used to it and the warmth reaches your bones. The hot water on your skin acts as a catalysis to let your mind wander freely. And of course, the hot springs have virtues that you will not find in your bath home: a mental and physical relief that will shy away all the stress and tensions.
My best place to enjoy hot spring: Kusatsu!
If you go to Kusatsu Onsen, three hours away from Tokyo, you are surrounded by mountains, snow in winter, and cherry blossoms in spring. The city is very small and its people are lovely, warm and welcoming. No wonder it has bee nominated the best onset in Japan for 12 years.
There are hot springs everywhere in the city. You can choose to try the public bath, free, small and inside very small wood houses or you can go to hotel’s spa. If you are shy, you can either use the bath in unusual time (lunch time or just before check-out times, for instance) or try the foot-only bath, « ashi no yu » (the place is called Jizo no yu, hot water of Jizo). Foot-only baths are also quite rejuvenating. You can also get a room with a private bath in the nice hotels or ryokan of the city, Boun is my favorite because it is inhabited by the kind souls of the people working there.
The water in Kusatsu smells sulphur. It is hot, very hot, and turquoise blue. The water flows everywhere in the city. Even the river from the mountain is hot water ! The volcanic water has aseptic proprieties that will make your skin smooth and slick . It will absorb all the minerals of the water, there is no need for hydrating cream. But the real magic of the hot spring lies somewhere else: it lies in its power to relax and heal your muscles and articulations from the urban stress. The hot water will melt fatigue away. Once in the water, you will hear your muscles saying thank you.