Japan is known for its hot springs and Hakone, just south of Tokyo, seems to be the place to be in terms of the concentration of spas where you can partake in these therapeutic waters. On a recent two-day visit, I got to try out the onsen (hot springs) as well as go to a few of the local attractions.
(Photos below the text)
A quick word on onsen:
To the American foreigner, the onsen can be a difficult feat to overcome. Yes, you are required to be naked. No, it’s not coed bathing, all bathing is separated by sex. Tattoos are forbidden. The have many rules which I found more intimidating than the act of removing my clothes in front of other women.
It took me a few visits to the onsen to get over my insecurity of being naked in public-ish. In other situations I am still uncomfortable, but no longer at the onsen. For this I credit my lack of Japanese language skill (I can’t understand if my body is being critiqued positively nor negatively in Japanese), knowing that I will most likely never see the ladies at the onsen ever again (Japan’s population is HUGE), and the acceptance that even with clothes on I am being stared at because I am of different face, body, hair, etc. etc. than most everyone around me (“What are you?“). Here, I quickly had to quiet the never nude in me if I wanted to experience the onsen and I’m glad I did because they are delightful.
Even if hot springs and nudity aren’t your thing, Hakone is a beautiful place nestled in mountainous, wooded areas. There’s even a volcano, which remains closed to the public due to the slightly scary (more than slightly) fact that it had been active at some point last year.
Beside the onsen my trip to Hakone included a visit to the onsen theme park, the Hakone Open-Air Museum and The Little Prince Museum. Read more on Hakone and its many activities at the Odakyu train line website.