Friday, August 11, 2017

Naked and Proud! Soaking in the Hot Springs of Oedo Onsen Monogatari

The facade of Oedo Onsen Monogatari-- a spa lover's paradise! Image from GaijinPot.

As the days of our 12-day pleasure trip to Tokyo slowly dwindled to a close, I found myself ticking off items in my "Must-Do in Tokyo" list just to make sure that I didn't miss anything significant. 
  • Theme parks: Check, check, check, and double-check.
  • Shop for anime figurines in Akihabara: Check (and bill, please).
  • Witness the tuna auction at a local fish market: No check, since we were informed too late that we needed an advanced reservation for that. This item goes into another itinerary for another time.
  • Taste staple Japanese street food which include but are not limited to: takoyaki, ramen, okonomiyaki, karaage, yakisoba, and yakiniku: Checkity-check check.
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I have more activities in mind that I wanted to accomplish that I've organized in tiers. From the second tier and above, the items in my dream itinerary are mainly comprised of more localized, non-touristy experiences that will give me a more intimate feel of Japan which I swear I WILL accomplish some other time in the near future. My heart welled up with an overwhelming sense of fulfillment as I realized that-- except for the tuna auction-- I've gone and done all of my Tier One "Must-Do" activities. As I reread my list, however, I saw to my horror that there was one un-ticked item in the one-foot long sheet of paper.
  • Bathe proud and naked in a Japanese onsen (hot spring) house: No check mark here yet.
I immediately grabbed my best spa-buddy, food-buddy, and travel-buddy to explain the horrendous situation and just as I expected, she was all up for it even at 7:30 in the evening! That's my mom for you!

My mom and I took the Yurikamome Line from Shimbashi Station to Telcom Center Station which is the nearest station to Oedo Onsen Monogatari, the most popular hot spring theme park located in Odaiba. It was a chilly night and the sky started to drizzle as we ran to the building for refuge.

*Something to know before heading to Oedo Onsen Monogatari: They strictly refuse entry to guests who have a tattoo.



Upon arrival, we were greeted by a huge lobby with shiny wooden floors. We tried to step on said floor with our muddy shoes but were stopped on our tracks by the receptionist, who informed us that shoes need to be taken off and placed on shoe lockers found on one side of the room. As we shuffled to the lockers, a cleaning woman followed up our every step with a dry mop.

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STEP 1: Take off shoes and place them on a vacant shoe locker.

A very helpful infographic.

We walked up to the counter to register. I took some money out to pay for the entrance fee, but the receptionist informed us that we were required to pay only upon exiting the establishment. Afterwards, he gave me and my mom each a wristband that had the number of our clothes locker and a unique bar code. You see, Oedo Onsen Monogatari devised a system that eliminates the need to bring your bills, coins, and cards. To pay for food, games, products, or services inside the onsen, one just simply needs to have his barcode scanned and the amount gets charged to your account which must be settled at the same reception area before you leave. Although it does sound convenient, this method is undoubtedly dangerous since customers might lose control over how much they spend inside the premises because they have a limited way of knowing how much their total bill will amount to. Always be aware of how and where you use your barcode.

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STEP 2: Register and acquire your unique wristbands.

The receptionist then directed us to an area where customers get to choose the pattern of their yukata. The yukata rental comes free with the entrance fee and is required for all guests entering the onsen. It is important to choose a yukata not only for its pattern-- it should also be the right size for you. A helpful advise that I've read from another blog site is to know your height in centimeters beforehand so there will be less hassle when it comes to choosing your yukata

STEP 3: Choose a pretty yukata that is the right size for you.

Before proceeding with the rest of this post, you might want to check out this walkthrough video of Oedo Onsen Monogatari that I shot and edited. Enjoy!

Our onsen experience began as soon as we emerged from the Women's Changing Room into festive "Hinomi Yagura", a "mall" designed to look like a vibrant scene from Old Oedo-- complete with paper lanterns, ancient watchtowers and a mural of Mount Fuji in the background! Our mouths hung wide open at the awesome sight! The pictures just don't do the place any justice.

"Hinomi Yagura". Image from the Oedo Onsen Monogatari official website.

An ancient watchtower stands in the center of the "mall", giving the place and ancient and festive feel.


Mount Fuji in the background.

Fortune-telling stall.


On one side of the room, there are various sweets shops and souvenir shops that sell exclusive Oedo Onsen merchandise and stuff that make for perfect omiyage. There are even stalls selling Instagram-worthy desserts such as ice cream, pops, and crepes.

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Ooiri-en candy shop.

Pretty (and equally-yummy!) popsicles from the Cold Stone Creamery.


Mmmmm. Crepes.

Beautifully-adorned cream puffs.

Shop that sells various flavors of soft serve ice cream and fresh fruit juice.

A midway game wherein players have to hit bullseye by throwing ninja shuriken.

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A festival mask stall and a ball-throwing game.

There's also an arcade for the spa-lovers who are young-- or young at heart.






On the far side of the room is "Hiro-Koji and Happyaku Yacho", a term literally pertaining to the 800 towns of Old Oedo (Tokyo) during the ancient times. The themed area was made out as a food court of sorts where "old Japanese eateries line the street". Tons of staple Japanese street eats and festival food can be sampled here with just the flick of your wristband-- from savory okonomiyaki and rich shoyu ramen to the crowd-favorite takoyaki, gyoza, sashimi, various pickled vegetables, salted edamame, and skewered meat. 

The food court, "Happyaku Yacho". Image from the Oedo Onsen Monogatari official website.

The perfect way to take a break from all the soaking.


This stall sells various kinds of ramen.

An okonomiyaki stall.


Soft serve with toppings.

Donburi.

Free water and tea for thirsty customers.

The best part of Oedo Onsen Monogatari is its hot spring baths. The Japanese people who are very modest and have no qualms whatsoever with nakedness between same-gender spectators and familiar people take hot spring baths completely naked. And while onsen baths in Japan are usually separated by gender, this might still come as a culture shock for bathers who are non-Japanese and are wary of walking around the spa in their birthday suits.


Upon entering the gender-specific locker room of the hot spring baths, guests are required to take off all their clothing and store them in an empty locker. Guests are given the option of perusing the free hair brushes, hair ties, and shavers the spa has on offer before entering the onsen

The only thing guests are allowed to take inside the bathing area is a medium-sized towel, but while the size of said towel may be sufficient enough to cover up a male bather's crown jewels, it is definitely not useful in covering up a female bather's nakedness. 

It was a pity that photography and video-recording are not allowed inside the premises of the onsen--though it is for a good and painfully-obvious reason. I thought that the hot spring baths were rather very picturesque. The first area bathers will encounter upon entry into the baths is the indoor bath, and I for one felt my sinuses begin to clear up as I deeply inhaled the steam dominating the entire room. There were different pools in various colors and viscosity laid out in front of me, each having a property that makes it unique from the others. I saw in one corner the spa's infamous Kinu-no-yu, or "Bath of Silk", "with Micro Nano Bubbles that soothes tired muscles and gives [bathers a] refreshing feel" (source: Oedo Onsen Monogatari official website). There was also a jacuzzi and a rock salt sauna room.

The indoor hot spring baths. Image from the Oedo Onsen Monogatari official website.

I first headed to the shower cubicles on the right side of the room to prepare for my soak. This is because bathers are first required to shower and scrub themselves squeaky clean before lunging into the springs. There's absolutely no need to worry about toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, body wash and feminine wash since everything is provided for by the establishment.

After briefly attempting and failing to find the indoor spring that I thought has just the right temperature for me, I made for the open-air baths. I opened the door and froze in all my naked glory for around ten seconds when the frigid outdoor temperature first made contact with my slightly-moist skin. I climbed down into the nearest hot spring and thankfully found that it was just the right 39 degrees for me.

The open-air hot spring baths. Image from the Oedo Onsen Monogatari official website.

Some sources (read: anime) made me a bit knowledgeable about how long one should stay soaking in a hot spring. The maximum, as stated, is thirty minutes because the overwhelming warmth of the water may make the blood vessels in general dilate, leading to a drop in blood pressure and dizziness (although I stayed for a lot longer and suffered no harm).

After the soak, I headed back to the locker rooms and dried myself up with a complimentary (bigger) bath towel. There was also a row of make-up tables on one side of the room where guests can redo their faces, use the hairdryer, and slather up with complimentary lotion and moisturizer. Each make-up table also has various pump bottles of testers of Japanese skin care products that the spa has on sale.

You might ask what I thought about my first-ever personal experience at an onsen, and I've got to admit that the experience is very much different from what I have seen played out in anime, manga, movies, and J-dramas. In the beginning, for one thing, I was extremely nervous at having to undress in front of my mom let alone in full view of tens of fellow female bathers. I was scared of being stared at, laughed at, or even body-shamed that I paced the dressing room fully-dressed for a hundred rounds (and even excused myself to pretend to use the toilet for a hundred times) before gathering enough courage. When I undressed, I looked around at all the other women and realized that my fears were totally UNFOUNDED! All of the other females minded their own business with nary a glance at me, either too excited to have fun in the water that they didn't have the time to diss others or too full of respect for their fellow women that they carry the principle that all bodies are unique and undoubtedly beautiful in their own way. In the end, I concluded it was probably the latter.

Still, that didn't stop me from covering my frontal nudity up with my towel and thankfully hiding in the darkness of the night while soaking in the outdoor bath.

Oedo Onsen Monogatari also has a spa that offers an array of therapeutic services like massages, body scrubs, and fish foot spa.



My mom and I decided to visit the foot bath area next after our soak. The foot bath are is an outdoor attraction modeled after a traditional garden. In the evening, the area was all lit up with colorful paper lanterns and fairy lights. Because we visited during the height of spring, they also had a little gimmick wherein cherry blossom petals and lines of Japanese poetry are projected into the water, and the slow rippling of the water gives these projections a beautiful fluid effect.



Beautiful.

Guests are supposed to go around the entire circuit of flooded stone path, but I swear they really really hurt!




What more is left to be done after a refreshing session of soak and spa? Cooling down with refreshments, of course! Oedo Onsen Monogatari has a section designed to look like a row of izakaya's, or Japanese pubs. My mom and I settled on one and couldn't help but sneak a taste of Japan's very own alcoholic pride-- Asahi.

Take your pick.

Asahi Dry, chilled at -22 degrees (or so, they say), for JPY 500 a stein.

Crispy chicken karaage.

Mozarella cheese balls.

Flushed and a little dizzy at 12:30 AM, my mom and I decided to head home to our little apartment where the rest of our traveling troop slept soundly in their futons. In the morning, I woke up blessed with not only a glowing skin, flowing locks, flushed cheeks, and good circulation, but also with newfound confidence, a wider understanding of Japanese culture, and better self-appreciation.

Oedo Onsen Monogatari's business hours, entrance fee/s, and parking information.


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