I was looking forward to checking out an onsen whilst I was in Japan. I did some research online and found one that was traditionally Japanese and also not too pricey. I encourage you to check out, Saya no Yudokoro https://www.sayanoyudokoro.co.jp/english/ the next time you are in Japan.
Tucked away on a quiet side street, Saya no Yudokoro is an onsen that was once a traditional Japanese home. One would never know the owner of Saya no Yudokoro’s home which was once filled with childhood memories would one day become a place for Japanese and visitors to seek a respite from their busy days at work and home. I came all the way from Canada to soak in the natural hot springs – I was not disappointed.
Fed from a natural hot spring 1,500m under ground, the water at Itabashi’s top onsen facility is rich in sodium chloride, giving it a characteristic greenish-brown colour. But this health-bringing elixir isn’t the only thing worth noting at Saya no Yudokoro: its renovated, traditional-style buildings and zen garden are gorgeous, as is the rotenburo, which is surrounded by lush greenery.
Although you cannot walk in the zen the garden as a guest, it’s wonderful to sit and take in the glory of the trees, the manicured space and ornamental Japanese trees. A memory I will never forget.
An onsen is essentially a hot spring. Because Japan is a volcanically active country, there are multiple onsens located throughout all regions. This results in a natural hot water, perfect for bathing and relaxing. It is said to have several health benefits, hence it is actually recommended that you take advantage of onsens on a regular basis.
Differences between Onsens
Although all onsens offer naturally hot spring water, there are several differences between them. Not geologically speaking, but commercially.
Open Air Baths
This means that the onsen is open air. This means you can enjoy the beauty of the Japanese natural worlds, whilst soaking in a hot bath. These onsens offering open-air baths are the most popular, especially the ones close to Mount Fuji, as you can enjoy breathtaking views. There is no doubt about the fact that these are the most popular onsens in Japan.
Private Open Air Baths
These are perhaps my favourite because you get to enjoy a secluded experience in an onsen, where you don’t have to share with anyone. This is the perfect treat for yourself and your loved one. You don’t have to rush, you don’t have to worry about anyone around you, you don’t have to feel awkward because you need to be naked in front of others. The downside of taking advantage of an open-air bath is that these rooms come with a serious price tag. For a once in a lifetime, I enjoyed myself. I didn’t have to worry about others, running around naked or feeling awkward. I took my time, admired nature and relaxed.
Gender Specific Onsen
These are specific for your own gender. You will only bathe in areas where the same gender is allowed.
The Onsen Ritual
There is an etiquette for using an onsen. And yes, you need to familiarise yourself with this rules and no, you can’t be forgiven for not respecting them just because you are a foreign tourist. Most onsens will have a small “how to” sign at the entrance, but just in case, here is what you need to do.
Before you enter the onsen, you need to wash. This might seem counter-intuitive, but the onsen is not for washing your body, is for relaxation purposes. Besides, the water is always clean and in order to keep it that way, you have to wash before you bath in an onsen. I’m sure you wouldn’t like to enter a hot spring in a hotel, knowing that everyone around you might have skipped bathing for a few days. It’s yucky, hence, everyone needs to wash BEFORE entering the onsen. You need to use a lot of soap and you need to rinse properly. You can use a stool provided to sit down whilst you wash. Make sure you also rinse the stool and the area around you, once you finished.
When entering the onsen, make sure you are delicate about it and you don’t dive nor splash around. Use a towel to cover your modesty until you enter the water. Don’t allow for the towel to touch the water. You can fold the towel and put it over your head whilst bathing.
Once in the bath, make sure you don’t swim. Onsen facilities are for soaking, meditating and contemplating. If your towel slips into the water, remove it immediately and wring it outside the bath, NEVER in the hot springs.
Once you are done soaking, use your towel to wipe off excess water and sweat before entering the locker room.
Most traditional Japanese onsens do not allow for people with tattoos on their premises. This is a traditional nod as tattoos are often seen as associated with organized crime. This could put off a lot of visitors. I will warn you, I was checked to make sure I did not have tattoos before I used the facilities at Saya no Yudokoro.
I purchased a delicious meal for my after onsen experience. This experience was the icing on the cake. The meal was a traditional Japanese lunch consisting of sushi, Japanese vegetables, soba noodles, tea and desert. All beautifully curated and fresh. Not only was it a pleasure to eat but it provided so much joy to my heart and my body after the external spa experience. I encourage you to have a meal as well when onsite at Saya no Yudokoro and take some time to enjoy the lovely dining room.
After the meal and your treatments, if you have time – read a book in many of the quiet spaces, have a tea in one of the guest rooms or outside in the garden space. There is even a small grocery area where you can buy some of the local vegetables that are grown onsite.
Saya no Yudokoro, provided such a serene and comforting end to my time in Japan. I hope you make some time for it when you are in Japan and enjoy the comforts that you will be hard pressed to find back at home.