Our First Onsen Experience

A Yukata is a Kimono made of cotton.  And there is nothing like seeing your 2-year-old wearing one.  Or your 4-year-old.  Or your husband.  Or as you look into the mirror, YOU.

Our family took our first trip to an Onsen (a public hot spring/bathhouse) and the first step after you check in is to choose your Yukata.  How fun, I thought!  I had a choice of 6 different patterns.  Steve did too.  The boys were handed the kid version and in typical Bertling boys fashion, they couldn’t have cared less.

As I was making my choice I couldn’t shake the thought of cultural appropriation, which is such a hot topic in the States.  How is it ok for a white girl from Minnesota to dress herself in a garment dripping with so much history?  But wildly it is.  I have heard again and again that in Japan it is considered positive that foreigners are trying out something in the Japanese culture.  I love that. 

Once you make your choice you must change, so I had the luxury of entering the women’s dressing room alone, while Steve whisked away the boys to their side.  Once inside I felt like I was at the OBGYN trying to figure out what undies to leave on and what to take off underneath the Yukata.  It turns out you leave them all on.  I took them all off.  Oops.  

When I exited the dressing room, expecting to walk into a spa-like atmosphere, I was shocked to find what felt like a family carnival.  There were games, arcades, food stalls and…my boys.  What a sight.  My favorite part was that Steve had lost Chase’s shorts and Obi (sash) somewhere in the dressing room, so Chase was walking around with just his diaper on and Steve’s black leather belt wrapped around him.  After I took Chase back up front to get situated we grabbed lunch, played games and then decided it was time to check out the baths.  We learned that smaller children can go with their parents, so Steve took Anders and I took Chase.  

We parted ways and entered yet another dressing room, which I would be lying if I didn’t say comes as a shock.  It is a room filled with steam, yellow towels and a hundred naked women.  So naked.  All of them.  Just naked.  Naked.  And I am cool with being naked.  I am.  But it was just all so naked.  So, I got naked too.  And so did Chase (after a little pep talk about the importance of telling me when he needed to go potty.)

We then grabbed our own yellow towels, placing one in our locker and tying the other one up in our hair - cause that looked like the thing to do.  The first stop was a place where you splash yourself with bowls of warm water to wash before the baths.  And from there you can choose from inside pools or beautiful outside pools.  We ventured outside.  Chase looked like the sweetest little girl with his towel in his hair, until he would bound out of the water with his bottom bits on display.  

You end your bath experience by heading over to a row of short showers with little chairs.  You sit in a chair, use the provided soaps to wash and make sure you are present in the moment telling yourself 20x “I am in an Onsen in Tokyo. I am in an Onsen in Tokyo.  I am…”  From there, you head back to the dressing room, feel proud for checking a new experience off of your bucket list and on the train ride home, smile to yourself because you now know that next time you will leave your undies on underneath that Yukata.

P.S.  We went to the Odaiba Ōedo-onsen-monogatari and we have learned (thanks to tips from friends) when taking the Yurikamome line, always grab the seat in the front of the train, so the boys can pretend they are driving it.

Melissa BertlingComment