If you have ever enjoyed this experience, please feel free to correct my assumptions about the ritual and what it means in current Japanese culture, but overall it was a very authentic experience that can't be duplicated anywhere in the world.
The hotel that we are staying at is attached to a local Onsen here in Fujiyama, Japan. I had seen signs for them several times and always assumed that they were similar to a Russian bath house or a fancy spa in Napa Valley. It's neither.
Mike and I did our obligatory visit to 'check it out' when we arrived at the hotel. Luckily we did. Turns out the Onsen bath ritual that is taken very seriously in Japan. Visitors are welcome but the rules are strict. First, no clothes. Second, no tattoos. Looks like both of us were out.
The Japanese have a huge aversion to tattoos that I was not aware of. I assumed there were certain older, stricter places that people would have to cover their tattoos but in reality, the tattoo seems to be closely associated with Japanese Crime groups (Yakuza) and is strictly prohibited in many public places. Including public baths and amusement parks. Who knew?
I did a little more online research and decided I would try the Band-aide approach. It seemed to work just fine. I went alone the first time to vet the place and get alone time. Selfish, but had to be done! Basically the Onsen is a large room of different types of baths. Hot, tepid carbonated, sleeping, jet, cold. You move from bath to bath, the end goal being a cleansed, relaxed state. There is also a sauna, steam room and brushing room. Our Western culture is almost religious about the shower, so the bath feels like a luxury, and the striping of oils from our bodies only to re-apply via lotion or oil when we get out of the shower is something only Westerners do.
There are very few cultures in the world that shower as often as we do. (Hence the popularity of the bidet everywhere except the U.S.) I wish I could tell you why and how often people use the Onsen but I have not been able to get a good answer out of anyone or off the internet. This is where I would like some feedback. Please share.
After my first visit and a little convincing and the enticement of a hot bath, I was able to convince the girls to come with me. Ages 10 and 12 are rough times for anyone to parade around naked in front of strangers but I invoked the 'When in Rome' clause and both girls were willing to give it a go. Now, I might not have pushed this in Napa, but I felt that we would never be able to have this experience outside of Japan. There did not seem to be any sort of age discrimination in the Onsen and women and girls of all ages were using it.
Izzy's middle school gym class experience came in handy here and she gave Maddy a few tips. Overall the girls handled themselves beautifully, and became even more confident for it. If you can imagine. ;)
Our visit to Mt. Fuji came to an end the next day. We had the chance to visit the Onsen in the morning before we checked out and both girls wanted to set their alarms and go again. They say it's addicting and I think they might be right. But when the alarms went off there was more snoring than action and I realized that I wouldn't have to worry about my girls' addictive personalities after all.