The weather is finally starting to cool down in Japan. What better way to enjoy the Autumn and Winter weather than with a nice, relaxing onsen visit!
Many foreigners coming to Japan think that Japanese hot springs are only good for taking a hot bath; however, they offer so much more than just the traditional dip in the spring. Hot springs provide guests with many activities to enjoy while visiting. Check out some of the things that you can do during your next trip to the hot springs!
Onsen Tamago(温泉卵)A positively delicious treat to try at least once while at a hot spring in Japan!
Making and eating onsen tamago is one of the most popular activities associated with hot springs. Onsen tamago or “hot spring egg” is a very traditional Japanese method of cooking an egg in an actual hot spring.
These onsen tamago are made by placing a raw egg into a hot spring and heating the egg at around 65~68℃.The average temperature of hot springs for bathing is roughly 38~42℃. Careful not to take a dip into the hot springs for the eggs, or you might turn into one of them!
Onsen tamago are very creamy and seem to melt right on your tongue. The texture of the eggs is similar to that of poached eggs in Western cultures, but somehow tastes so much better.
Not only are the onsen tamago extremely delicious, but they are also said to be very good for health. Onsen already have a number of health benefits; add eating an onsen tamago to that and you get the perfect health rehabilitation method!
The hot springs in Hokkaido (北海道) and near Mt. Fuji (富士山) are famous for their onsen tamago and if you are in Hakone (箱根) you have to try the kuro tamago (黒たまご) or “black egg” at the hot springs in the Ōwakudani (大湧谷) area. You can buy kuro tamago in packs of five, even outside of hot springs in Hakone as well.
Thirsty? Try Insen (飲泉)!
Insen is a method of drinking water that comes directly out of a hot spring. The water from hot springs is said to have a large variety of therapeutic effects on the body and mind. In the onsen area, you will be able to find fountains to drink some of the water. These fountains look a lot like the purification fountains at the entrances of shrines and temples, where you wash your hands and mouth before going to pray.
Etiquette tip: After drinking the water with the ladle provided, please wash it thoroughly.
Get social with Ashiyu. (足湯)
Ashiyu or “natural foot bath” is a different type of hot spring, where you do not bathe completely, but just soak your feet. Costing only 100 yen or less on average, an ashiyu is a very convenient, cheap, and fun hot spring activity for all ages. Compared to traditional hot springs, where you completely bathe yourself, at an ashiyu guests are able experience a very casual atmosphere, socialize, and relax all while dipping your feet into a hot spring. It is also said to have great benefits for making your feet feel softer.
Tip: Be sure to check if the ashiyu you go to offers guests towels or if you will have to bring your own.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Some of the hot springs in Japan are located in rural areas and up in the mountains, surrounded by nature and wildlife. This makes for a beautiful and relaxing experience to enjoy a nice hot bath, not only for you but also for the locals…monkeys.
Depending on the location of the hot spring you visit, you might come across some surprising visitors bathing along with you. More common in hot springs located up north, such as in Hokkaido, and in mountainous hot springs, every now and then you might enter the bathing area only to discover there are already some monkeys enjoying the waters.
If you see a monkey in the hot spring you are visiting, you should report it to a staff member. Do not enter the baths either, for it is not only considered extremely unhygienic, but also can lead to safety issues. Do not try to touch the monkeys either. While they may be comfortable around humans, they are still wild monkeys and may act violently if they feel threatened.
There are some hot springs that are reserved only for monkeys, like Jigokudani Monkey Park ( 地獄谷野猿公苑) near Shibu Onsen (渋温泉). In places like these, you can get up close and personal with the wild snow monkeys while they enjoy their own private hot spring.
Get Your Dairy On
One of the most popular traditions in Japanese onsen culture is drinking milk after taking a dip in the hot spring. Nearly all hot springs in Japan will sell some variety of milk for guests to enjoy post-bath. When you are at a hot spring, be sure to take the opportunity to try refreshing bottles of the various milk drinks available, such as fruit milk or coffee milk. Both of them taste great, though my personal favorite is the coffee milk!
Guests are highly encouraged to drink something, like water, tea, or sports drinks, after enjoying the hot spring in order to avoid dehydration from the water’s temperature.
Also, don’t drink alcohol before or immediately after entering the hot spring! It is usually prohibited to even enter the hot spring if you have been drinking and discouraged after the bath, because it will dehydrate you even more.
Time to Play
Many hot springs have some form of entertainment outside of the springs themselves, such as a small arcade and lounge areas where you can play games with your friends and other guests.
A popular game to play at hot springs is table tennis and makes for great fun both before and after enjoying the baths; playing a few rounds with others while drinking some delicious milk is a great way to relax. You can also enjoy relaxing in some amazing massage chairs and some hot springs have games like darts to play as well.
Japanese onsen are a great place to unwind and enjoy great company, all while experiencing one of the country’s most beloved past times. Next time you are in Japan, be sure to check out some of the hot springs and enjoy all that they have to offer!
Article originally published on Izanau, Feb 25, 2016. Edited from original version.