(Note this actually took place the weekend of the 14th. I'm lazy and didn't write about it until now, however I'm going to avoid retroactive posts since they probably go unnoticed)
By now I'm sure you're all wondering the same thing: How can you spend this long in Japan without taking a public bath with a bunch of Japanese men? Well, you can put your worries aside and I can check off another cultural experience.
I went to Odaiba, the man-made island in the Tokyo bay, this weekend and checked out an onsen there.
This is the view of Tokyo from Odaiba. They have a statue of liberty. I don't know why. What I do know is that the Oedo-Onsen Monogatari has an attached dog resort. You know, b/c dogs need to go to spas too.
Anyway, the sign says they prohibit heavily intoxicated people, people with tattoos and yakuza members. The drunks I can understand, but is there some threat that tattoos pose that I'm unaware of? Should I not swim around tattooed people or just not bathe with them? I also wonder how they know who yakuza members are. My understanding was that the yakuza were similar to the mob. I wouldn't have guessed they make their allegiances known. Apparently I am wrong.
Anyway, I go into the onsen, leave my shoes in a locker and get in the entry line. When you get to the front, you pay the entry fee and are given a key on a bracelet with a corresponding bar code. Any additional expenses you rack up in the onsen are just added via the barcode and you pay upon exiting.
Next stop is getting a yukata. This allows you to blend in seamlessly with all the other onsen attendees. They totally can't tell if your from Japan or not. For bonus points you can wrap it with the right side coming over the left and feel even more like an idiot in your Japanese bathrobe when you notice your the only one wearing it that way.
Anyway, once you put on the yukata in changing room number 1, you enter the onsen proper. This, as it turns out, is a giant room which feels vaguely reminiscent of a children's carnival at a church or elementary school. There are little games such darts and 'pick a floating thing out of the kiddie pool' complete with requisite crappy prizes. There are souvenir shops and food stands and a Dip 'n Dots vendor. Performers dressed in exaggerated costumes from the Edo period juggle and sing and crap. There's a guy with a beer trolley which explains how anyone could handle spending more than 5 minutes in the main onsen area.
I hadn't eaten when I came, so I ordered some udon w/ tempura. I also have some hirezake. I did not take this picture (didn't have my camera on me at the time), but this is pretty much what hirezake looks like:
It's sake with pufferfish fins floating in it. Oh, and it's served hot. Somehow the vapors coming off it seem are far worse than the drink itself and kinda burn your whole throat. Also you eat the fins. I had to see this done before I would try it. Nothing about this experience was particularly pleasant.
Fortunately, the rest of the onsen is much more pleasant than the main hall. There's an outdoor footbath area where both men and women can go. There's a winding path of ~6inches hot spring fed water with little rocks attached to the bottom. The little rocks hurt at first, but you kind of get used to it.
The footbath is free, but there are also additional amenities that you can pay for. I decided to try a sand bath. You go into a smallish builing and lay down on a blanket in some sand. You are then basically mummified and buried up to your neck with hot sand. You lay there and sweat for about 15 minutes. It's okay, I guess. Much better, however, are the Dr. Fish:
It's a small pool filled with small fish. You sit on the edge and stick your feet in the water. This will prompt the fish to swarm around your feet and eat the dead skin off of them. It tickles a lot and is kind of creepy to watch, but my feet were very smooth feeling afterward. So, if you care about things like that, or just like the idea of paying to have animals eat part of your skin, then I highly recommend the Dr. Fish.
Aside from the coed footbath area, there are seperate bath areas for men and women. You go through locker room 2, leave your yukata and enter a large room with various hot-spring filled pools. There's also an attached outdoor area with a couple more pools and a sauna. In the locker room they also provide you with razors, toothbrushes and asorted hair products. The main bath area also has small stalls with shampoo and soap where you sit on a stool and shower by pouring buckets of water on yourself. The weirdest thing is that it doesn't seem that weird when you there.