Many Japanese feel that a visit to an onsen, traditionally a geothermally heated hot spring, is the best way to relax and unwind at the end of a stressful day, and right they are.
Onsen are typically split into different baths for men and women. Ritually, visitors typically wash before entering the waters, taking only a small hand towel with them, to use as a wash towel.
We visited the (admittedly artificial) onsen attached to the hotel in Niseko. Heated to 42 degrees, and infused with a plethora of natural minerals, it was a great place to go at the end of a hard, and painful, day of skiing.
As someone who will often alternate frequently between heater and air-conditioning in the car, the contrast of the warm, invigorating water beneath the surface, against the cool sub-zero air temperatures above was familiar and refreshing, and surprisingly didn’t result in pneumonia.
While I cannot show you a picture, I can describe the scene. Imagine an outdoor heated pool, slightly murky from the suspended minerals, separated by a small divider from the outside world. The onsen overlooks a small lake, bounded by snow two metres deep and countless bare alpine trees. The pièce de résistance was the spectacular view of Mount Yōtei in the distance.
Now imagine it filled with a dozen naked men. Of course, the big elephant in the room (pardon the pun), was the nudity issue.
I must admit to feeling a bit of quiet discomfort with the nudity, baring all in front of friends and strangers. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy nudity, just typically in my own place and time. And the more self-conscious side of me tends to take over with the mere thought of public nudity.
Yet at the onsen, these fears quickly subsided. No-one looks, and no-one cares. And this meant I could quickly get back to a blissful state of relaxation, and enjoy my visit.