It was one of my biggest fears... being naked in public.
Who'd have thunk, it was beautiful.
Hanashobu is a man-made onsen, just a short walk away from my apartment and university. When I walk at night, the bright lights and billowing steam beckon me. I didn't have the courage to go, until my lolita friend offered to take me.
As soon as I walked in, I knew this wouldn't be your average spa experience. To the right there were lockers for your shoes, which I had also seen at Japanese Izakaya/pubs. When I stepped onto the wooden floor to stowe my shoes, I realised that the floor was heated! It was so nice, after a walk in the cold wind.
We went to the front desk to check in, where we were given [atrocious] fluorescent orange uniforms, a bag for our towels and belongings, and a wrist band. The wrist band worked as our personal credit card of sorts, which kept track of your expenses for the day. All you had to do was hold the bracelet up to a sensor on a vending machine, and the charge would go to your account, to be paid when you left. (After all, you can't carry your wallet around when you're nude can you?)
Okay well, you aren't exactly nude the entire time. Before entering the baths, you get to experience all the saunas. The guests are issued proper sweating uniforms, which I'm certain are designed to dissuade any ideas of possible attraction. The two-piece shirt and shorts combo are highlighter orange for girls [I joked we were in Bath Jail], and pine tree green for the boys [they didn't smell like evergreen].
The first was what I expected from a sauna... a mild room, where you lay down your towel on rocks and roast like a satsumaimo. Nothing exciting to report, except from the fact that I love satsumaimo and was honoured to live like one.
The next room was light therapeutic. The entirely white room was hotter than the first, with marble floors. Between each lying space/stall (?) there was a 'wall' of string lights, which changed colours every fifteen minutes. The colour from the lights was cast throughout the whole room. I loved watching the colours change, especially to cerulean blue and hot pink.
To take a break from sweating our butts off, we stopped in a snow room- no literally, a snow room. The cylindrical room had glass windows all around, and scented snow fell from the ceiling. Someone had built a tiny snowman and left him to chill.
The last room was my personal favourite... we laid on our backs and looked up at a changing night sky. Stars twinkled on a deep navy background, until morning broke, and the 'sky' became robin's egg blue.
Finally, it was time for the main event... the strip down. This was the moment I was dreading, not just because of my own insecurities, but also...
I have a giant tattoo on my back.
Read more after the cut!
My friend told me before arriving, that they had been kicked out before because her friend had a small tattoo on the back of her neck. Mine is about the span of three hands and all across my shoulders.
Our brilliant plan to dupe the onsen staff was to hide my tattoo with icy-hot patches. But on my college budget, I bought the cheapest quality patches. After about two hours of sweating, my patchwork quilt of icy-hot had slid around and slipped off all ready.
We kept our cool. When staff weren't walking by in the locker room, my friend helped me rearrange my patches under a towel, and we slipped out to the showering area.
Let me just say... I was expecting it to be super awkward being naked with a friend, especially one I had just met recently. But I found it surprisingly natural, not a big deal at all.
So the showering area. Hana Shobu provided herbal shampoo, conditioner, face and body wash. You sit on a stool in front of a mirror and clean yourself thoroughly before entering the baths. Personally I wasn't a fan of this, if only because I try to avoid seeing myself naked at all costs. :P
We moved on to the next challenge... actually entering a bath. My patches were slipping around again after showering, and I was getting nervous. We had made it this far, would my inked shoulders ruin our day after all this?! No, I was determined.
We sunk into an indoor bath. A tenant scolded me for bringing a towel in the water- the one I had draped over my tattoo, and the patches which were slipping off. I managed to get it out of the water while pushing my back to a wall, hoping for the life of me no one saw or complained.
A few minutes later, my friend gave me a worried look. She cut me off from what I was saying, to point out something really embarrassing... MY ICY HOT PATCHES WERE FLOATING AROUND ME. On top of that, they had swollen from the hot water, and were all gelatinous and slimy!
I thought this is it, I'm going to be kicked out of a brand new bath house in the most embarrassing manner.
But luckily, that was not my day to be kicked out. I collected my embarrassing mass of slug-like patches, put the towel over my shoulder again, and disposed of them. Following my friend's suggestion, we switched to an outdoor bath, hoping there would be less people and tenants. She was right.
Outside there were single-person baths, which were more like giant people pots. There were also big pool-like baths, like giant hot tubs more than anything. We settled in one, I found a wall to rest my back upon, and finally, at long last, we were able to soak in peace.
I left that day without being caught for my tattoo... and the cost for the day, including the saunas, bath, an extra towel, drinks and an ice-cream cone, was less than 2,000 yen.
It was really strange going about my normal day after that, going to the grocery store and wondering if I had just bathed with any of these people. If anything, it was the cleanest I had ever felt!
Would I go to another onsen? Not if they made such a big deal about tattoos, because I think hiding mine was more trouble than it was worth. But in general, it was out of the ordinary, refreshing, and enjoyable. I'd recommend it to friends visiting Japan.
But personally, maybe I'd do this once a year. Or right after a really awesome diet.