A Ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn, with traditional Japanese meals, yukata and futons.
An Onsen Ryokan is pretty much the same thing, except that you have access to some natural hot springs as well.
It’s like a night in heaven.
There are plenty of active volcanoes in Japan. It means that in several places in the middle of the mountains you can stumble upon a geyser and smell this lovely odour of rotten eggs.
It also means that you’re about to experience the natural hot springs, those springs that come out of the soil for the greatest pleasure of Japanese people (and myself as well…!) who just loves to have hot baths.
Basically, an Onsen Ryokan is like a Spa Hotel in Europe. But way much better.
The very big surprise for me is that Noriko is bringing me to the Onsen Ryokan that inspired Hayao Miyazaki for Spirited Away. They even have a room called “Rin”. And you can find some sceneries from the anime!
This Onsen Ryokan adventure begins with the very first bath and putting on the Yukata. For one or the other, I’m happy that Noriko is on my side. She explains to me every step of the washing and how to behave in an Onsen.
HOW SHOULD YOU BEHAVE IN AN ONSEN?
- Don’t show any tattoo. They’re a kind of stigma of criminal behaviour. Often related to yakuza.
- You have to be naked. But hide your body with a towel while you’re reaching the bath.
- Rinse yourself with some water from the Onsen. Wash your body and hair at the ‘shower’ before entering inside the Onsen. Rinse yourself and your towel.
- You must cover your body front with a towel while walking the few meters between the ‘shower’ and the bath.
- Enter the Onsen.
- Put your towel on top of your head, so it’ll absorb your forehead sweat. Never ever let your towel drawn in the water. Same with your hair, that needs to be tied up.
- Don’t stay too long, the water is really (REALLY) hot. You could faint.
- Wash yourself again. But not as entirely as before, especially if you’re going to bath all night, like it’s often the case in an Onsen Ryokan. Dry yourself.
- Put on your Yukata.
- Drink a lot of water.
After that, we have a guided tour about the history of this amazing building. He speaks only Japanese, obviously, I can’t get a single thing, so I’m just taking loads of (blurry) pictures (because of the low lights).
When it’s time for dinner, I’m like OhMyGodThere’sEnoughOnThisTableToFeed40People! I try everything, and every single thing tastes like heaven. I want to try and taste everything but it’s impossible, there’s too much. I talk about our Christmas dinner back in France to Noriko, Tomoaki and Masashi. I try to teach them one of my favourite expression after such meal: ‘I’m going to roll down to my house’.
In order to have a good digestion, we take a stroll in this little Onsen Town. This kind of place is often situated in a little town in the middle of the mountains, with a lot of different kinds of Onsen gathered in the very same place. The streets are superbly lighted, all the customers are wearing Yukatas, and it feels like an ancient old Japan issued from a legend…
We stroll, we try to shoot some cans with a rifle, and it turns out that I’m not that bad (don’t know if that’s a good news!). It like the fair, and Masashi and I won some Dragon Ball Z canteens!
And finally, the night at the Onsen can get started. Of course, not a lot of customers are actually spending all the night bathing, but it’s the time to try every 9 different Onsen of this Ryokan!
Every Onsen is separated between Men and Women. I learn how to read the appropriate Kanji, so I won’t be mistaken. One Onsen is outside, two others are public and all the 6 others left are private Onsen. Which means that you can lock the door and enjoy a bath ON YOUR OWN. (Or you can have a huge pool party with your mates).
Finally, I get to try 5 out of 9, and when I actually start to fall asleep (I might have been very close to faint…) that I decide to go to sleep and enjoy the comfy/cosy/fluffy futons.
I’ll be back bathing the next morning just before the huge indecent breakfast.
Noriko is now calling me Onsen Master.
LET’S GO THERE!:
Kanaguya, 2202 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture