I had a very Japanese experience last night - it involved sushi, toll roads, semipublic nudity, and lots of staring. I, at long last, have been to a nude public bath.
I didn't bring the camera this time.
But Internet, it was so fantastic. I was a little nervous going in, especially since we went with our friends Kelsey and Mack (Kelsey of the fantastic sleepover) and it has been a long time since I up and got nekkid with a friend. Turns out, though, once everybody around you is naked - and once you've washed ALL your bits and pieces in front of each other, which is the first thing you do at these places - it's just not that weird. We did refrain from bathing each other, which the Japanese ladies do - U.S. culture is pretty darn repressed in some ways, compared to here. The men, of course, were on the men's side.
The onsen (well, not technically - these were hot tubs/spas, not natural hot springs) was amazing. There were massaging jet tubs inside, and stone seats with hot water running over them for relaxation and cooling off a bit. And a tub of ice-cold water! ICE COLD. These women are TOUGH, I tell you, and many sat right down in the ice water to, I don't know, invigorate themselves?!
The real draw was outside. High walls and trees surrounded the grounds and separated the men from women. There were seven or eight tubs outdoors under a light sprinkle of cool rain - hot spas made of stone with waterfalls pouring slowly in, small round tubs for one person, like sitting in a big bowl of water. A scented steam sauna, hotter than any I've seen in the U.S., and a popular spa full of cloudy water with some skin-softening mineral or something. My dry arms feel like babies' bottoms this morning. And best of all, long, wide stone tablets, constantly washed in hot water, under a little roof, where you can lay and relax, even fall asleep while the breeze keeps you cool.
It was so nice. Kelsey and I had a great talk, and we both liked to move around a lot. We were glad to see that everybody looks funny naked, including the beautiful, thin Japanese women who populate this land. As the only non-Japanese there, though we did get some stares - neither cellulite nor freckles seem to be a Japanese affliction. The little kids were especially unabashed, and I suggested we should charge extra admission for the Naked Gaijin Show.
OH, speaking of the kids? Parents are allowed to bring their kids of opposite gender into the onsen - up to AGE THIRTEEN. We didn't see any adolescent boys, thank goodness, but thirteen?! That's a sexual being, a thirteen year old boy. I'd rather not lean over to get a drink from the fountain, or sit in a spa with any teenage fellas, thanks.
By the time we got home, Josh and I just piled into bed and slept for about ten hours. Kelsey and I made a pact to go back there more often, and I want more girlfriends to come! What a treat.