Well yes I did. I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t found the fantastic Jonelle Patrick step by step guide of exactly what to do when (travel book publishers someone give this woman a guide book deal). I also figured that after writing about my dilemma on here you’d all think I was a big wuss if I didn’t go, so I plucked up the courage and got my (soon to be revealed to the world) butt on the train out to the Ooedo Onsen Monogatari (to give it it’s full name) which is situated in Tokyo’s Odaiba.
I got there just as it opened for regular business at 11am – which was good as it meant it wasn’t too crowded. After following the complex entry procedure shoes off before you even join the queue, pick up your charging wristband, and then choose your yukata ‘aka dressing gown’ and sash and instructions on how to wear it – at this point, my ‘don’t upset anyone’ etiquette alarm goes into hyperdrive and I’m thinking ‘is there a wrong combination? Will I upset anyone if I wear blue and yellow together?’. Thankfully it seems not as I managed to put together this fetching little number.
At this point I was a tad confused – was I supposed to leave my undies on under the robe or not? A sign on the wall led me to believe yes – which seemed to be the correct decision considering paddling in the communal footbath in the garden requires hoiking up of your robe!
My first stop was the ‘sand bath and rock sauna’ booking room – remember trying these was the real reason I wanted to go to Ooedo Onsen. Sadly, despite being there early I couldn’t do both, so I choose the sandbath. It was 1595 yen for 15 minutes – about £16 – a bargain considering the one I had here in the UK costs £140. I therefore had 2 hours of nekkid time to kill – so, obviously, I went to the snack bar and had lunch. This confirmed my belief that I was in an ‘undie friendly’ zone – as far as I’m concerned noodles should not be consumed commando.
Eventually however I could fiddle about with soy and wasabi no longer – I was going to have to get my kit off. To do this you head to a second changing room, pick up a big towel and a small towel – then place your yukata, the big towel and your charging band in a new locker. You are now bare to the world. Thankfully, the little towel is there to dry bits of you, but also to ‘preserve your modesty’ should you need it. Placement of the towel seemed an individual thing – some women wrapped theirs round their waist like a little skirt, others threw modesty to the wind and wrapped it round their hair, I went for a nonchalant carrying over a strategically placed arm that I felt said ‘no I’m okay with the nekkid thing, honest’ – while covering up the bits I didn’t want to reveal to a room full of strangers!
The next gauntlet I had to run was body cleaning. The WORST thing you can do in an onsen is get into it grubby – you must scrub yourself with soap and water first. Again, my etiquette alarm had made me so paranoid, that I was basically washing myself everywhere I saw water – when I first walked in the bath room I saw a shower so I got in that – but there was no soap so I figured this wasn’t right. Then there was some buckets of water so I threw them around a bit just in case. Finally I found the actual soaping cubicles and soaped up – though I’m sorry, the communal pumice was a step too far.
I then threw myself into the first bath I saw – a nice dark orange, body hiding one. This may not have been the most sensible approach as it was also the hottest one – 41 degrees. After 5 minutes of heart pounding I swapped to a white bath, again, nicely concealing but a few degrees cooler. this was supposed to have ‘vibrating water bubbles that bounce against the skin’ – in reality it just felt a bit like sitting on a bath bomb. Nice and warm though.
By this point however I’d sussed out that nobody cared what anyone looked like. Yes, I might be a bit of a novelty being the only non Japanese body in the room, but hey ho – if they want to peak at Brit girl bum so be it. I spent the next hour happily wandering from bath to bath – although I do admit I spent a lot of time looking at the sky, studying the crevices in rocks and the signature leaf patterns of the Japanese fern whenever anyone got in one with me and I still find it odd that friends were in there together having a good old chat. I can’ t even get most of my mates to come to the pub.
By this point is was about 12.30 and I figured I needed to cool off before my sandbath so I got ‘dressed’ again, had some water and went for a paddle in the outdoor stream. Thankfully I had been warned how sharp some of the rocks were and, after my walk on the barefoot path in Korea I also knew how pathetically sensitive my feet are, so I stuck to the nice round looking rocks!
Then it was time for my sandbath…..and I’ll tell you how that went tomorrow (as this post is already seriously long).
So, was I glad I went to the Ooedo Onsen? Yes, very. It wasn’t the most relaxing experience I’ve ever had soaking in hot water – between the nakedness and the fear of doing something wrong it was a bit stressful, but now I’ve done it I’d be more au fait with things next time. So, watch out Asian spas of the future – Helen is coming – and with her bum on show if required.
2017 update: Since I visited Ooedo Onsen, it seems they’ve added a lot more advice in English to their website telling you how to tie your Yakuta and all sorts. But do also check out Jonelle’s site – it’s great.