It’s about the beautiful Yunomori Onsen & Spa, turning 42 and getting naked. Yes, people, this is about my very first foray into public nudity at an onsen. So, if you’re a tad shy about these things (like I was) and are blushing at the thought, read no further.
Traditionally, an onsen is a Japanese hot spring and the bathing facilities and inns frequently situated around them (Thank you, Wikipedia). A few years back, a dear friend of mine went skiing in Niseko and returned with tales of the beautiful onsen she visited. I immediately wanted to go. Longed to dip in the hot pools. Dreamed of soaking away all my aches and pains and steaming in a tranquil and healing environment. However, when she mentioned that a trip to the onsen meant getting completely naked, I was in horror! I am one of those prudish people who is just not used to public nudity. In fact, I am so shy that I usually choose not to shop in clothing stores where the dressing rooms are communal. What would possess someone like me to book an afternoon at the onsen when it is clearly not in my nature!
As my 42nd birthday loomed and I thought about what I wanted to do, I saw an advert for the Yunomori Onsen & Spa. It was nearby and looked gorgeous. Again, I imagined the bliss of the hot pools, quiet surrounds, being on my own (not with children clamouring), calm and relaxation. I thought it would be the perfect way to spend my birthday so I called them up and booked in for the onsen and an aromatherapy massage – surely they couldn’t really be serious about nudity. If they were, and I couldn’t deal with the pools in the nude, at least I would have the massage to look forward to.
I arrived an hour and a half before my treatment and leaving my shoes in a locker at the front, I checked in, paid for my treatment and was told to head back to where I could remove my clothing. They were serious about nudity alright… But they also recognised that shy girls like me might need a bit of coverage so they were happy to provide me with disposable underwear. I don’t know why or how this helped because these little bits of mesh are completely see through and also tend to slide off at random times.
I was given a big towel, a pretty Japanese style yukata (a casual kimono), a teeny, tiny towel, a wristlet with the locker key and my disposable underwear. To my horror they informed me that only the teeny, tiny towel and disposables were allowed in the onsen area! I almost called it quits because being able to throw off the yukata or a big towel wrapped around me at the last moment and then slide into the pool quickly had been my plan all along. Now there was no escape because that teeny, tiny towel would not provide any form of coverage at all!
Slinking into the female dressing room (Yunomori welcomes both males and females with the onsen areas segregated), I was confronted with ladies in various states of undress. They did not seem disturbed at all by this, blow drying their hair, pulling on clothing, talking to each other and applying makeup. I on the other hand, hid in the toilet to undress and put on my disposable undies… I really couldn’t quite do the completely naked thing. As I hid in the bathroom and changed into the disposable undies, I realised that I had left everything else in my locker! I would basically have to parade myself out in front of these women in order to retrieve that teeny, tiny towel and then walk back around them to get into the onsen area. I wondered if anyone would notice if I just sat on the toilet until my treatment time. Probably not and I really, really wanted to check out those pools. So I took a deep breath and stepped out, clutching my clothes in front of me as a shield.
As I walked past the beautifully slender, young and gorgeous ladies, some of who were happily standing stark naked and completely comfortable with themselves (seriously, who in their right mind could hold a decent conversation in that state of undress), I was very, very aware of the curves that I carried with me. With my head down, I scurried across the room. Thankfully, nowhere in the onsen are there any full length mirrors. The only mirrors are the small ones by the dressing table that you can only see your face in.
At that point, I wished that the earth would swallow me up and spit me out somewhere else, fully clothed of course. Standing by my locker was where I realised that nobody was watching. Nobody. Ok, so maybe there could have been a few “peekers” but really, I couldn’t tell so why should I care? They were all too busy keeping eyes averted. Nobody was staring or whispering, pointing fingers or giggling. I tossed my clothes inside my locker and turned around with shoulders back. I grabbed that teeny, tiny towel and carried it with me, wandering to the onsen area like I owned the place.
The onsen pools are entered through two sliding doors and beyond is a shower room with rows on the right and left. One lady was sitting and bathing herself naked and after reading the instructions, I also took a stool and washed myself, struggling to keep the disposable bra in place. I finally laughed and let it fall where it may, giving myself a good scrub and then stood up and walked to the pools. This was not so bad.
Inside the pools area, it was dimly lit. You could hear the soothing sounds of water flowing and breath in the warm, comforting steam lifting off the surfaces of the baths. There were five pools in total plus a beautiful steam room and a rain shower you can rinse off under. Each pool has its specific therapeutic effects. Some will relax, some will improve blood circulation, a few of them will improve your skin quality and one even helps to reduce high blood pressure.
Tossing my teeny, tiny towel on a chair, I climbed up the stairs to the first bath and slid into its warm embrace. Ahhhhhh. This was what I was here for. Being nude didn’t bother me. It was just blissful and I soaked in the silence, letting go of all the things that had been frustrating me while I had been 41.
I tried almost all the pools except the cold pool. I really didn’t want to have a cardiac with the extreme changes in temperature, and the jet pool which I tiptoed into and hopped out quickly because it became too hot. I spent a joyous 30 minutes in there before deciding it was time to go and get ready for my aromatherapy massage treatment.
Back out in the shower room, I again washed myself with the products provided by Yunomori, all of which smelt lovely and made my skin feel soft and smooth (an additional affect of the pools I had just been in). Drying myself off as best I could with the teeny tiny towel, I walked back out to my locker and put on my yukata. Was it a relief? Yes it was. But at the same time, I realised that it wasn’t such a big deal. The human body is a beautiful thing. Yes, even mine with all its curves and handles. There were gorgeous ladies in there with perfect skin and perfect bodies. But that is all in my opinion. I’m sure they too have their own hang ups about their body. But still, at the onsen, we were all simply women taking a break and receiving a little bit of therapy that the shimmering pools provided.
In my yukata, I headed out to the unisex cafe where there is a full Japanese menu. Had I known, I would have skipped my lunch and dined there. Opting for green tea, I waited for my therapist to come get me for my massage. It was a proper, Asian style massage with strong hands and firm strokes. 90 minutes of amazing that I would love to come back for again.
Afterwards, blissed out and zen, I went back to the dressing room, put my clothes on and walked out feeling refreshed, happy and not the least bit embarrassed.
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All images by Angela Manners unless otherwise indicated. This post was originally published on mysweetestspots.com and may have been edited for this platform.