Devine Water before Devine Lusciousness – Onsen, Sentō, and Sushi

Two more highlights in Japan are surely worth mentioning: bathing and food. Both is anchored deeply in Japanese culture and will free your mind…

Soaking up culture: Onsen and Sentō

I don’t like sauna too much. It is hot. And I start getting nervous around 23 degrees. 25 when there is some wind. You may imagine how I feel at 35 degrees. Hot baths and sauna are therefore an activity I rarely execute. However, bathing in public facility is so deep in Japanese culture, that I could not say no – and was actually very surprised that I started to really enjoy it! There is just so much ritual about it, such a nice atmosphere and severity that I started liking it a lot and went four times in total.

There are hot springs (onsen) and public baths (sentō). My first experience was already onboard the ferry from South Korea to Japan. I just saw a picture of the ferry’s sentō and knew I gotta try this! So I went there and carefully checked it out: First all clothes in baskets outside the hall with the pools. Then intensive cleaning procedures while my small backpack wrapped in its’ waterproof shell stood dripping beside me (sorry, no lockers…). And then: Quickly into the water. “Not so hot!” I thought and some minutes later as the pool filled, an elderly gentleman obviously shared my oppinion and opened a hot water tap – it got very hot…

Also two of my hosts took me to an onsen and a sentō respectively. In Toyko we went to Joetsusen bath around midnight, it was a small and not very impressing sentō. But it had a tiny pool outside which made it nice – and just knowing that this bath likely sees one Westerner a year made me smile. In Utsunomiya I asked my host to take me to one because I was freezing all day – there were huge outdoor pools and flat slabs over which hot water was running. I layed there for 20 minutes watching the stars while my front got cold and my back stayed warm.

I visited an onsen twice by myself: In Ibusuki after taking a hot sand bath as well as in Hakodate (Hokkaido) in a basic but very interesting public onsen. This one (Yachigashira onsen) I also enjoyed a lot: It had dark iron-laden water and it was just a blast laying in outdoor pools while it was snowing around while the cold quickly crept out of my limbs.

The food –  gosh the food…

Although I had to miss out on food a lot in order to cut expenses. Hit a really good restaurant – you will not recognize a fancy restaurant from the outside – and you can spend your monthly budget in an eyewink as Japanese restaurants are absolute top class: they accummulate most Micheline stars in the world, some restaurants even refuse the decorations. However, of “ordinary” food I tried as much as I could. Seafood is found plentiful and I ate it occasionally, although I admit I would have loved to try much more. But just thinking about Fukushima made me think twice where I ordered fish. I just could not withstand sushi though and gosh! eating sushi in Japan is like an enlightenment, feeling the fish melt in your mouth… I also ate a lot of ramen, traditional noodle soup that is specialized in every region. In Hiroshima and Utsunomiya I tried okonomiyaki, a savory kind of pancake. But many, many, many times I skipped a main meal (especially breakfast to get going) and just went into a grocery store and bought one or two rice balls, called onigiri. Twice I also ate tempura, battered and deep fried seafood and veggies. Street food is not too common in Japan but becoming more popular. There is much more to say about the food but I am getting hungry…!

Talking of grocery stores: Japanese ATMs do normally not accept international credit cards. Two locations save you from problems, offering working ATMs: 7-11 stores (found at every corner) or post offices.

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