TIM LEFFEL: Taking the Waters in Tokyo
TIM LEFFEL / Sports Features Communications
January 20 - You soak in mineral-rich water, steam rising around your head, as your cares melt away. In Japan though, this is generally one pool of many and you’ll have other people all around you. This is not some strange, exotic place though: it is one of the thousands of communal bathing facilities known as onsen.
By most any measure, Japan is the world leader when it comes to the number of places to soak your body in public hot baths. The onsen were historically naturally occurring hot spings in nature fed by the "Ring of Fire" volcanoes. Now they’re everywhere, some owned by local municipalities, others part of elaborate resorts.
The tradition lives on in the big city of Tokyo too, with many right in the midst of offices and stores. To be an onsen though, hot water coming from the Earth must be used, not just reheated tap water (a bath house using the latter is called sentō).
Looking for a real Tokyo hot spot? Here are some notable bath complexes in the capital to try.
Ōedo Onsen Monogatari
Part onsen, part theme park, part folk village, this entertainment complex on an island in Tokyo Bay goes well beyond a typical bath house. With restaurants and spa treatment areas for before or after, then indoor and outdoor baths of various sizes and temperatures, Ōedo Onsen Monogatari is not the kind of place to just pop into for an hour. The water comes up from 1,400 meters underground and is said to relieve nerve, muscle and joint pain. One pool has little fish that will give you a pedicure—not for the ticklish.
To make a real day of it, arrive or depart on a Tokyo river cruise [insert link to http://www.sportsfeatures.com/olympicsnews/story/49907/tim-leffel-seeing-tokyo-from-the-water] that stops on Odaiba Island.
See prices, opening hours, and other info in English here: http://www.ooedoonsen.jp/higaeri/english/
Yukari Jindaiji Onsen
This complex in the Chofu area has both male and female bathing areas and 12 varieties of baths, including a scented one, a bath with waterfalls, and one modeled after the principles of Feng Shui. (Resting against the right stone will bring you the good fortune it represents.) You can relax or lay down for a nap in the relaxation area or have a beer while your feet dangle in the foot and leg bath; your pass is good for the whole day.
See information in English here: http://www.shiroyama-gr.co.jp/yukari/english.pdf
Heiwajima Onsen Kurhaus
This bath complex is perfect for traveling business executives because in addition to the baths fed by water piped up from 2,000 meters underground, there’s a shuttle to Haneda Airport. Indoor and outdoor pools of different configurations are on two levels. Novel massage treatments available include an Indian head massage, reflexology, and a hot rocks treatment lying on heated stones.
See more information here: http://www.heiwajima-onsen.jp/en/index.html
Should Tokyo win the International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote in September to host the 2020 summer Games, this will be one of the must see attractions of the city and surrounding areas.
**Tim Leffel is the author of four travel books and editor of the award-winning webzine Perceptive Travel. http://www.perceptivetravel.com
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