I’m kicking myself now for not trying out a Tokyo onsen sooner. I had gone to one around two years ago at a hotel in Miyazaki and was just not impressed. I went with my host family, and it felt like nothing more than an expensive bath where old ladies stare at you because they’ve never seen a white person naked before. My mistake was assuming that all onsens would be that, well, lame.
This onsen was recently remodeled and has a very clean, new feeling to it. While it certainly attracts a lot of foreigners, the majority of the patrons are Japanese. The entrance fee was cheaper because it’s summer now (about ?2000) and the food/souvenirs/massages weren’t that bad either! They give you a key bracelet with a barcode that shop workers will scan when you purchase something extra. They tally it all up when you leave the onsen so you can walk around and not have to worry about storing your wallet in your yukata (but you can still easily carry your digital camera, etc in the sleeves if you want).
I ate sushi, oden, two iced oolong teas and a giant shaved ice and bought two bath salt packets for omiyage and my total ended up being just short of ?3000. The food was very good too, not typical tourist trap food. That made my total about ?5000, which is not bad considering it was an all-day affair! I believe you’d pay considerably more on a trip to Tokyo Disney Land.
There are multiple natural hot spring pools (including outdoor ones) and saunas. The main baths/saunas and the outdoor footbath are free. For other things like the sand bath and massages you’ll have to pay extra. If you’re so inclined, they also have a bath where tiny fish eat the dead skin cells off your feet. As much as I like trying out “quirky Japan” things, it was one of the more expensive services so I passed.
The nice thing about Tokyo is that they’re much more used to foreigners so there’s no awkward staring (at least to my knowledge) when you’re bathing. Soap and shampoo is included as are brushes, hair serums and blow dryers afterwards. I don’t know about the men’s side however, because this is not a mixed-gender onsen.
After the first changing room you enter the common area. It’s made to look like a traditional Japanese village square with restaurants and fare games/fortune telling and souvenir shops. It’s busy but not too crowded (maybe because it’s summer?), and it felt like being at a matsuri. As expected, the majority of the food offered was Japanese. There were several places to get sushi, izakaya-type establishments serving alcohol and drinking snacks, oden, tempura, ramen, shaved ice, ice cream, etc. I really can’t list it all. I also saw a stand selling Korean food like bibimbap and a place selling… Dippin’ Dots. Keep track of the time, and you can see one of their samurai drama performances. It’s in an open, cafeteria-like area so you can eat your food while watching.
My friends and I came in the morning and left to make the last train. I was having a horrible week before, but the trip fixed my mood completely. We’ll be going again at least once more together and I plan to bring my boyfriend once he comes in August. It’ll be interesting to compare this onsen to jjim jil bangs when I go to Korea.
The instructional brochure says that they will escort you out of the onsen if they find you have tattoos. I already knew for a long time that they did that but it’s neat to actually see it in real life. It reminds me the Yakuza doesn’t just exist in movies (I don’t usually venture where one might see some of them…)
The Korean food stand there reminded me how my boyfriend said, when he went abroad with his parents on those Korean bus trips, the older travelers refused to eat anything but Korean food. Apparently it was a nationalism thing (Korean food is the best food), and it drove him crazy. It almost makes me wonder if that’s why it was there, since I felt it was kind of out of place in an old Edo setting.