Slice of Life: Onsen, Japanese Hot Spings

Looking to check out this ‘onsen’ you’ve heard about in Japan? Curious about what it entails? Well, here you go – a play-by-play of my first onsen experience in Takayama, Japan! I had a really hard time finding information about some place to use an onsen in Takayama, that included prices! All information I found was incomplete or links didn’t work any longer. So, your 2 best bets for onsen in Takayama (if you don’t have one at your inn/hotel/etc) are:
+ Associa Hotel Takayama: 1000 yen entry fee, shampoo/soap, etc. included, 1 time hairbrushes, hair dryers, free lockers, and small towels are provided. There is a shuttle to/from Takayama Station – hotel location is not convenient for walking from downtown. (10 minutes by vehicle). Open until about midnight, I think!
+ Takayama Green Hotel: 10 minutes walk from Takayama Station, 1000 yen entry fee. Open until about 9pm

An onsen is a Japanese hot spring. Of course, a true onsen is natural amongst rocks that are not man-made-into a pool, but that’s OK. I still count this past weekend as my first onsen experience! After searching all over the internet for an hour to find a good place to try an onsen experience, and only finding the Green Hotel in Takayama, we finally gave up on the outdoor onsen, and decided to just go to the Associa Hotel that is close to my house. It is the nicest hotel in Takayama (also the most expensive, I believe), but they have an onsen that is a few floors up and on a clear day/night, it has a view of the mountains just beyond the town. (Those mountains are covered in snow already, I should add). I thought I had heard of people going to use the onsen who were not hotel guests, so we decided to give it a shot, and if it didn’t work out, we could go to the Green Hotel.

Well, lucky for us, the Associa Hotel in Takayama allows non-hotel guests to use their onsen facilities for a charge of 1000 yen!For people who are not staying there, it is a little out of the way from downtown Takayama, but they have a shuttle bus to/from Takayama Station! I don’t know how often, but I almost always see their bus, so it must be pretty regularly! I don’t know if I would mention that you aren’t going to be staying there… It’s the same price as the onsen at the Green Hotel, which is closer to the station, but I think it’s probably much nicer and it has that potentially awesome view… so we decided to go for it! Basically, an onsen is like a hot spring, but generally, no clothing is allowed at an onsen! You heard me – you are naked and so is everyone else! Men & women are separated, though.
Here are pictures from the hotel’s website of their onsen facilities (Top 6 pics are the 7th floor, bottom 5 pics are the 5th floor).

I’ll give you a run down of this particular onsen, which is basically the same as any other onsen, except that this location has men on 1 floor and women on another, not on the same floor but separated. When we arrived to the “spa wing”, we removed our shoes and put them in shoe cubbie/ shoe shelf. Then we arrived at a vending machine, which we paid our fee to, and received an entry ticket, which we exchanged at the desk a few feet away, for the modesty towels (which are not very modest – 1 is a washcloth size, and the other is about the size of 6 washclothes together!), and permission to enter. We then walked down a long hallway to the 6th floor restaurant area, with tables and chairs and a view facing the mountains in the distance.

This 6th floor landing area offers warm noodle bowls which you can buy, as well as soft-serve ice cream at this point. If you’re only here to use the onsen facilities, you could potentially use the onsen for an hour or so, meet back here for some noodles & ice cream, then go back in again for a while if you wanted – make a day of it and escape the cold mountain life for a bit! This area is also where you find out which floor is for men, which is for women for that day – this hotel alternates the men/women floor each day, so if you stay overnight, you can check out one floor the first day, and then get a chance for the 2nd floor the following day. On this occasion, the men had the top floor – #7, and we had #5, so we parted ways and began our Onsen experience!

First, we arrived at the dressing room where we are immediately greeted with many ladies in their birthday suits! So we found some empty lockers in the far corner and put everything we had into them. Everything! Off we went with our little towels, locker key, and absolutely nothing else into the next section, the scrubbing room! I just named it that. You do not simply head into the onsen without first going to the scrubbing room and scrubbing away any and all dirt! There are about 20 washing stations, separated by some small dividers, that offered a little bit of privacy, I suppose. We used the handheld shower faucet and a round shallow bucket, while sitting on a wooden stool, to shower. Shampoo, soap, and ‘rinse’ was provided at each station, and you should spend several minutes here, to ensure you are completely clean! Once you are good and clean and free of any remaining soap, you can then get in the onsen! This particular spot had 6 – different style onsen pools. 1 was indoors, but the rest were all outdoors, but it didn’t seem so cold out there! This evening was unfortunately pretty cloudy, and it was after dark already, so we didn’t get to see the mountains or anything 😦 but next time I go, I’ll make sure it’s a clearer night!

This is the hotel website, if you are planning to visit Takayama & would like to stay at a super fancy (and super fancy-priced) resort hotel with onsen included!

You’re other option is always to stay at at Ryoken, also, which is a more traditional Japanese inn, and I would recommend this one: Oyado Yamakyu Takayama – if you want a more traditional experience!