I just had my first experience in a Japanese Onsen and it was incredible. I am more relaxed and stress-free than I have ever been. (Onsen is the name given to the natural hot springs).
I spent all yesterday exploring the small city of Morioka way up north. My friends Ron and Juni spent two years living in Morioka, so we had our own private tour guides. We really got to experience life as a local; it was fabulous! Just about nobody speaks English in Morioka, so Ron and Juni did all the translating for us. They brought us to their favorite local restaurants for Ramen and Jajamen (a special kind of noodle dish only found in Morioka). It was so nice to have someone to provide us with a non-touristy, local perspective. We would have never found these adorable, delicious hole-in-the-wall treasures if it weren't for them! Ron and Juni met several Japanese friends while living here, so we got to meet a lot of them. Ron was part of a Japanese baseball team here, so he introduced us to his (extremely good looking) Japanese baseball friends (they all wanted pictures with me to show off to their friends hehe).
This afternoon (after overdosing on Sencha green tea and mochi, my new favorite dessert that is made of gooey rice and red bean paste) we hopped on an hour-long bus for a little excursion from Morioka. We met Ron's friend, Kenta, at a fancy Onsen hotel for the real Japanese Onsen experience. We are staying here for one night and then heading back to Morioka for one more night, then off to Tokyo on the 27th! The Onsen was without a doubt the most relaxing thing I have ever done. It was similar to the hot springs I went to with my family in Colorado in that it was all natural springs, but here everyone goes naked...way more fun. At first I was a bit uncomfortable and overwhelmed by all the nakedness, but after 5 seconds of stepping into the Onsen, any awkwardness disappears. It is too relaxing to even care!
First we put on our "Onsen robes" to walk from our hotel room to the hot springs. Guests stay here mainly for their amazing Onsen, so everyone at the hotel walks around in their robes (naked underneath). We then followed the pre-Onsen routine of showing on stools and gettin ourselves clean before stepping into the hot springs. I lay in the Onsen for about an hour. It was very hot! It had such a calming "zen" touch to it, surrounded by beautiful carvings, plants and rocks. Upon getting out of the hot springs, we took advantage of all the free beauty products..hair treatments, skin creams, etc. It felt so nice to get fresh and clean after all the traveling and living in my same two outfits.
I am going to sleep like a baby tonight! About to go have one small half cup of sake with my friend Luke for his birthday and then off to bed. Thinking of you all! I hope you all make it to Japan one day if you haven't already been. Best place I've ever been..and as of now I have been to 27 countries! :)