Our Final Dip

Posted by on Dec 7, 2011 in Oita, Travel Volunteer Journey | 2 Comments
Our Final Dip

Almost 80 days have passed since we first experienced onsens and as we are about to leave Kyushu, one of the homes of the traditional hot spring, we thought we’d cover them one last time. I’m genuinely not sure how many hotels and resorts we’ve been in since that day in Niigata that have onsens, but it’s at least 20. It’s extremely popular in other words – particularly with elderly Japanese who like to ease their naked, creaking bones into the soothing warm water. It’s not much of a spectator sport, that’s for sure. But then it’s not supposed to be: staring at people in an onsen, regardless of what is or isn’t sagging, is frowned upon.

In any case, people come to relax, and occasionally to chat, at peace with their fellow (entirely nude) man or woman. As you may have noticed, our schedule has been pretty busy, so for us, being able to sink into the steamy volcanic waters and catch our breaths has been life saving. It’s just a shame that with the understandable separation of men and women in the public baths that we haven’t been able to do it together more often.

That was the case again today in Beppu in Oita prefecture. It’s one of Japan’s most renowned onsen towns, with public baths that go back to the Meiji era, and a slightly surreal hot-spring theme park. But again we weren’t able to compare notes as we dipped in the especially hot water that flows from the earth and through Takegawara onsen, until after we were dry again.

As we’ve travelled around Japan, we’ve been tickled by how many prefectures claim to produce the best rice, or sake, or beef, or soba, or half a dozen other distinctly Japanese commodities. Curiously, though, none of them have claimed to have the best onsen.

Maybe it’s because the water is so different from one place to the next that it’d be futile. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s milky; sometimes it’s odour-free, sometimes it reeks of sulphur; sometimes it’s alkaline, sometimes it’s almost painfully acidic. The settings vary wildly too: in the last few months we’ve bathed our feet at the tops of mountains, and dipped our nakedness at the bottom of valleys. We’ve even watched monkeys do it. At other times we’ve gone to soulless leisure centre type places where the emphasis is resolutely on functionality. They’ve been in the minority though the best onsens have been bamboo structures, with unfiltered water running straight from the hills. In those places, if it’s not possible to relax there’s always make-believe to idle away the morning, fantasising about ninjas trying to assassinate samurai, if such a thing ever really happened.

In the end, what you do and don’t like about onsens – or indeed if you like them at all – is a matter of personal preference. For us, we’ve become converts, to the point where we’d love (an artificial) one at home (when we have a home). Given one thing or another though, it’ll likely be a private affair – the only wrinkly bums we’d prefer to see are our own.

Our time Oita prefecture was made possible by:

The time and dedication of the Walk Japan team. You can read all about them here, a brilliant bunch of people who we’ve no hesitation in recommending to everyone.

Mario and family, owners of a traditional inn known as Momokusa. They gave us something we’ve rarely had in Japan: an enormous family meal, eating traditional food around a low table, sitting on tatami mats. It was lovely, but we occasionally missed our mouths, do distracted were we by his insanely cute kids.





日本を旅する中で、何度も“うちのお米は最高です!” “うちのお酒は最高です!” “うちのお肉は最高です!” “うちのお蕎麦は最高です!”と、各都道府県がこぞって同じものについて自慢しているのを耳にしてきた。だが面白い事に“うちの温泉は最高です!”というお国自慢は聞いた事がない。




長い時間を割いてご案内下さったWALK JAPANチームの皆様、本当にありがとうございました。どんな素晴らしいチームかは是非こちらをご覧ください。日本に、そして大分県に来たら是非彼らにコンタクトをして下さい!自信を持ってお勧めいたします。素晴らしいおもてなし、本当にありがとうございました。



  1. Mike
    December 15, 2011

    Nice article about your trip to the onsen.

    Haven’t been to Japan yet to experience an onsen so might I ask how one behaves or goes about in enjoying an onsen?

    Would you wash first then soak afterwards? Don’t know the “proper procedures” like most people who is unfamiliar with onsens.

    Thank you!

    • Katy & Jamie
      December 16, 2011

      Exactly Mike – you have a [public] wash first, then head to the spa. It’s really simple. Usually, though, you’ll already have changed into your yukata (bathing robe) in your hotel room before you head out. That way you don’t have to spend so long getting undressed before getting into the water.
      Only other etiquette is not to stare at your fellow man. I’d guess laughing is probably out too.