#5: Soak (or… Get your Onsen on) // Kurokawa, Japan



travel well

live well

People go to Japan for a hundred different reasons. The top of my list? I wanted to take an epic bath. 

But before we get there, let me first tell you that the path to a Japanese tea house is as important as the tea house itself. While walking the path, we are able to leave the worries of the world behind and step into a more mindful way of being. The path serves as preparation for the ceremony to come. 

An onsen– a Japanese bath built on a hot spring– is less complex than a tea ceremony but equally thoughtful in its approach. Onsens aren’t just a way to get clean, but meant to be a moment of quiet reflection. My lifelong Japanese bath dreams came true when several years ago Laura and I stayed at a traditional Japanese inn, in the mountain town of Kurokawa. The town itself is built on a hot spring: you can’t walk more than five minutes without a beautiful mountaintop soaking pool waiting to warm you in the chilled mountain air. The entire town is serene, from its cobblestone streets to the muted tones of the buildings made of charred wood. The town itself calls you to a calmer version of yourself. 

Our room at the inn featured a stone tub with a direct feed from the volcanic spring below. This meant that our tub had a gentle trickle of fresh hot spring water and that gentle sound lulled us to sleep each night. We spent most of our day reading and drinking sake in the tub as the snow fell outside our rice paper window. These were some of the most profound moments of peace I’d ever experienced.

There’s an eerie sense of calm to all our days now. Once the baby goes down and our work is done, we find ourselves with long stretches of open nighttime. Social and professional obligations are all postponed. We’re faced with the daunting task of trying not to drink and Netflix too much. So I’ve got a new plan for you — combine two of my favorite elements of Japanese culture: the path to the tea house, and a nice long soak. 

Today, when I was watching the baby, Laura asked “do you mind if I hop in and take a quick shower?” The only thing I minded was the thought of her rushing a shower. Why make it quick right now? Our bathing rituals here in the States are often our dirty clothes crumpled on the bathroom floor, a dirty tub you haven’t cleaned in months, and a rushed scrub. 

Tonight, do it right. Get Japanese fancy. Prepare your bath. At some point today, give it a good scrub. From there, clean your surfaces, put your toiletries away, and get rid of all those tiny half-used bottles you took from a hotel. Then tonight, in your newly cleaned bathroom, light a few candles. Head into your bedroom, undress, fold your clothes and put them away. Find your favorite bathrobe and run a bath. Add some epsom salts if you have them, essential oils if you have them, even coconut oil from your cupboard. If you have a window in your bathroom, open it slightly as fresh cool air contrasts perfectly with a hot bath. Put on some music if you’d like, but keep your devices at a distance. Get a clean towel and fold it for you to step into after the bath.

Then soak.

Although a hot bath won’t cure any viruses, it will go a long way in easing your anxious mind. So do like the Japanese and prepare your path to the onsen, take a soak, and bask in the hours we suddenly have open.