Contrasting Japanese Onsens, or How to Take a Bath with a Bunch of Other Guys (Part 2)

Please note that our normally scheduled blog post on our Trans-Siberia trip is delayed due to our attendance at a wedding in San Francisco this past weekend (congratulations Stephen & Wendy!) and we did not have time to finish the post. However, a recent comment by one of our readers pointed out that we never published Part 2 of our Japanese Onsen series. I'm not sure what happened. We wrote it, but never posted it, so here it is... Meanwhile, tune in next week for the next installment in our continuing saga.
  • Ooedo Onsen Monogatari
  • Sara, Phil & Ender at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari
  • Phil & Ender at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari
  • Michelle & Michael at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari
  • Ender at the Onsen
  • Conductor on the Romance Car
  • Front Row Seat on the Romance Car
  • Sara & Ender in Romance Car
  • View from the Romance Car
  • Arriving at Hakone, Japan
  • Sophia & Charlie at Hakone, Japan
  • Ender & Phil on the Gondola in Hakone, Japan
  • Hakone, Japan
  • Sara, Ender & Doraemon
  • Hakone, Japan
  • Hakone, Japan
  • Hoeiso Ryokan, Hakone, Japan
  • Welcome Tea at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
  • Welcome Tea at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
  • Dinner at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
  • Dinner at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
  • Dinner at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
  • Our room at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
  • Walkway to Onsen at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
  • Breakfast at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
  • Phil & Sara at Hoeiso, Hakone, Japan
One of the highlights of our Japan trip was our trip to the onsen (hot springs).  This is a Japanese tradition which allows one to relax and cleanse both one's body and one's mind by bathing in a pool of hot water that has come from deep in the earth.  We actually visited two very different onsens in Japan and it gave me a good perspective on how different an experience it can be, depending on the facility. After my initial visit to an onsen five years ago in Taiwan, I knew what to expect, at least from the nudity aspect.  Read More

Hey, Who Stole the Toilet? What Do You Mean I Have to Hit That Hole in the Floor?

Just a warning, this post may make you uncomfortable, or even offended.  If you are one who gets squeamish easily, or who does not like talk of bathrooms, or things resulting from visits to bathrooms, please do not read any further.  However, when you travel, the bathroom situation is something to consider, so you might find our companion post, How To Use a Squat Toilet, educational instead. If you have traveled to other parts of the world, you might have noticed that there are a variety of toilet options which might be presented to you.  I first experienced the squat toilet when I traveled to South America in the mid-90's, but I was with the Navy and I was used to roughing it a bit.  When Sara first took me to Taiwan and Hong Kong in 2002, she had a very frank discussion with me about the fact that I would be faced with this type of bathroom fixture more often than not.  I told her that I could handle it, and for guys, it's mostly not an issue...until it is. Throughout our travels, Sara and I have come across some interesting bathrooms, some of which we still talk about.  Most recently, on our trip to Japan, at the Narita Airport, just outside of customs, we found one that could have been right out of Star Wars.  It opened like an elevator, with buttons and a sliding door.  Then, the actual toilet had at least a dozen buttons for different options for flushing and bidet.  I regret not getting a picture, but I was just so intimidated by the whole experience, not only from the numerous choices presented to me, but also the fact that everything was in Japanese.  I was afraid that I was going to hose myself down by accident (I did that on a train in Egypt by hitting the bidet pedal instead of the flush pedal on the toilet).  It turns out there were options for a small flush or a big flush, seat warmer, and front and back bidet, both hard and soft.  It seems the Japanese are easily embarrassed by the sound of themselves in the bathroom, so there was even a button that turns on artificial running water to mask other sounds which might emanate from the bathroom.  I think there might have been even more. There is a bathroom in China that Sara still refers to as 'A River Runs Through It'.  Let me explain.  Read More

How To Use a Squat Toilet

If you travel overseas enough, you will eventually run into a squat toilet.  "What is a squat toilet?" you ask.  They come in many varieties, but essentially, it is any toilet which requires you to squat instead of sit in order to conduct your business.  From my experience, they are very popular in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America.  Don't be afraid, though, once you get the hang of them, they are not that bad, and actually offer a much more sanitary experience that a lot of public sit-down toilets.  I know that as a guy, I have gone into many bathrooms, even here in the U.S., looked at the toilet and thought, "Man, I'm glad I don't have to sit on that!"  Women, however are not as fortunate, so they might especially appreciate the squatter.  Sara, raised in Taiwan, much prefers the squat toilet to the sit-down variety in a public situation. So, what is the best strategy for using this toilet?  Read More

Hachiko – Unrequited in Tokyo

If you travel to Tokyo to visit a friend and need to pick a spot to meet, you should know that the most popular meeting place in the city is a small statue of a dog in front of the Shibuya train station.  Almost every Japanese citizen knows the famous story of the dog, but most Americans do not. In the 1920's, Hachiko, an Akita, walked with his master every day to the Shibuya train station to see him off.  Then, every evening,the dog would return to the station to await his master's arrival home from work.  This was a pattern that repeated every day until he was 18 months old.  One day his master, a professor at the local university, had a stroke and died at work.  The dog waited for him, but he never came home.  Undaunted, Hachiko returned the following afternoon at the time of the evening train, only to go away disappointed. Hachiko never gave up.  He returned to the station for the evening train every night without fail.  When people began to notice him regularly, they began to feed him.  His story became known throughout Japan when a newspaper article about him was published in 1933, after he had been returning every night for seven years.  He finally passed away and re-joined his master after ten years of never giving up.  A statue was erected of him at the station, but was torn down when the metal was needed for the war effort in World War II.  Another was commissioned after the war and has stood in his waiting spot ever since. Sara first told me this story years ago and I have thought of it often.  Even though it was pouring down rain, we made the trek across the city to see the statue.  So if you are ever meeting someone in Tokyo, meet at Shibuya and wait with Hachiko, he will be there. Read More

My Trip to the Onsen or How to Take a Bath with a Bunch of Other Guys (Part 1)

Sara and I have returned from our latest trip:  Tokyo and Taipei.  While I have been to Taipei a few times in the past, this was my first visit to Tokyo.  I must say that I absolutely loved it.  The people were friendly, the city was safe and clean and the food was incredible.  We also got to experience a true Japanese tradition:  the onsen (hot springs).

Before I tell you about our adventure in Japan, I should talk a bit about my previous time at an onsen, as it was eventful.  My first experience was in Taiwan in 2004, where we had traveled by train to a hot spring resort in Chih-pen, Taitung.  Sara and I were accompanied by her parents and sister and were all staying in the same room at the Royal Chih-pen Hotel, sleeping on the floor on Japanese style tatami mats.

Sara had instructed me on the proper etiquette and on what to expect, so once we arrived, I did what I was told and changed into a robe with nothing underneath.  This is where my problems started.  For those of you who have never been to Taiwan, you should know that most Taiwanese are fairly short.  I am 6' 2".  I don't think the resort has many foreign visitors, because their robes are designed for 5 foot tall people.  Consequently, my robe came to mid-thigh.  I felt like a Go-Go dancer from the sixties.

I am generally not one who is comfortable naked around others.  In the gym, you won't find me shaving at the sink buck-naked like some guys.  I get in, change, and get out.  So, when it came to walking around the hotel room with all of Sara's family present and my butt cheeks nearly popping out of the bottom of my robe (I was terrified to drop anything and have to bend to pick it up), I was less than happy.

Then came the announcement that we would be eating in the room, again, Japanese style:   on the floor.  We would all sit around a low table.  I sighed and then contorted my body this way and that, while clenching my fists around the robe in strategic locations to keep the good stuff hidden.  I finally got settled on the floor and comfortable, when, Michael, Sara's father, emerged from the bathroom in his robe...with his pajama bottoms on underneath!  Oh ha, ha.  Pick on the white guy.  Everybody had a good laugh at me as I carefully struggled to my feet to find my pajamas.

Read More