Find Zen in the Japanese Wilderness

Japanese hot spring.
Photograph courtesy of the JAPAN NATIONAL TOURISM ORGANIZATION.

Natural hot springs in Japan delight tourists and natives alike.

In Japan, bathing in the steaming natural waters of onsens, or hot springs, is an age-old national obsession and popular tourist draw. The country’s native religion, Shintoism, teaches that the mind, soul and body need to be regularly cleansed, and it is no wonder that thousands of Japanese regularly travel from every corner of the country to find respite in the 26,796 ancient pools dotted across the Japanese archipelago.

Hakone's onsen obsession

The lakeside town of Hakone is at the heart of Mount Fuji’s onsen hot spots. The onsens of Hakone were originally used as a hybrid between public baths and places of relaxation. There is a tradition in Hakone, and across the Fuji region, of “naked communion,” where locals and visitors alike let their inhibitions go as everyone shares a serene bath together surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. Even the local monkeys like to sneak in a quick swim.

Bathing is a common prescription in Japan for all kinds of ailments, both physical and mental. The four types of naturally occurring onsens—sulphur, sodium chloride, hydrogen carbonate and iron—each promote healing of various pains and illnesses. This therapeutic tradition of balneotherapy aims to harmonize health.

  • Hidden paradise

Woman in the bath.Inside the natural surroundings of Hakone Kamon, where the onsens look like ponds on the gentle slope of a mountain and a waterfall splashes in the background, the steaming waters cleanse mind and body. Large ceramic bathtubs slowly bubble as birds tweet from the trees, taking the mind on a journey toward tranquility. When the setting sun falls behind the trees, traditional flickering lanterns cast ghostlike shadows over the baths.
 
  • Spiritual awakening

The Tenzan onsen incorporates a historic Japanese bathing house amid thousand-year-old forests and mountains. Inside the wooden bathhouse, there is virtually no light, so the body can escape the hot midday sun and the mind can avoid any distractions from the outside world. Shintoism teaches that the mind should be allowed to wander freely for regeneration.

  • Floral delight

In Hakone Yuryo, built on the site of a former begonia garden, family and private baths are available. Bathing in the mineral-rich pools with the scents of rare local fowers filling the air ignites the imagination.

Read more: The Warmth of a Finnish Sauna


Joe Worthington is a travel writer and editor based in the United Kingdom.

From the July 2017 issue of Live Happy magazine.

 

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