During my travels to Japan, I got addicted to the Japanese onsens (bath houses). I was lucky to enjoy at least 30 onsens in Japan, and I loved them all. From the onsen in a small provincial town Sanwa-machi in Ibaraki prefecture to the biggest onsen – Spa World in Osaka; the experience was a pleasure mixed with amazement.
These onsens or their cousin sento are so widespread in Japan that most hotels have at least a small one. There is a difference between “onsen” and “sento” which may be confusing. “Onsen” means a hot spring. “Sento” is a bathhouse which gets hot water from the boilers, not the hot springs.
Splashing through the Spa World in Osaka, Japan
Spa World in Osaka is one of the biggest hot spring onsens in the world. The natural spring water is drawn from deep in the ground. The Spa World can accommodate up to 5,000 people. I visited it two times, in summer and in winter.
The Spa World has two zones: European Zone (on the 4th floor) and Asian Zone (on the 6th floor). One level is assigned to women, another level – to men. They switch men’s and women’s zones every month.
To truly understand and appreciate this unique place, it’s better to visit both zones, Asian and European. I was fortunate to do it during my two trips to Osaka.
On my first trip to Osaka’s Spa World, I went to the Asia Zone. I bought a ticket from the vending machine for 1,000 yen (about $10). It was a temporary, promotional price, but even the regular price is only 1,200 yen. It gives you access to the baths, pools, and gym for the whole day. For such fantastic facility, it’s cheap! If you want to use the facilities during the night (from 12.00 am to 5.00 am) you will have to pay 1,300 yen.
There is a strict rule in all Japanese onsens – you should get yourself cleaned before entering the baths. I chose to wash not in the shower, but the traditional Japanese way. I sat on a low stool, poured the water into the small basin and splashed myself from this basin before lathering my hair and body. After rinsing, I could proceed to the baths.
It is common for women to carry a small towel to cover up their private parts while walking from bath to bath. Before entering the pools and tubs with warm, hot, or scalding water, they put the towel on their heads. Everyone is wearing the rubber sleepers, which are picked up at the entrance to the baths. I already knew that I had to leave these sleepers before entering the restroom and put on “restroom sleepers” lined up by the door.
In the unisex areas, everyone wears the loungewear – a cute set of short cotton pants and a top. Women and men get different colors – pink for women, blue for men. In the mixed-gender pool and rooftop bath, a bathing suit was required (you can rent it if you do not have one).
As to the baths, I tried to use as many as possible. They had baths which are typical for different countries: Japanese cedar tubs, Bali’s mud bath, India’s salt sauna, Persia’s milky water bath and some others.
My favorite was the open-air rotenburo onsen where you feel connected with nature. Rotenburo – Japanese hot spring baths built outdoors.
After visiting the zone of Asia, I was in such awe of what I saw and experienced, that it seemed to me that the European area will not impress me as much. I was wrong. When on the next trip to Osaka I revisited the Spa World, I was even more impressed.
European zone included areas, imitating baths in Greece, Spain, Ancient Rome, Finland, and Italy. Greece section had a mud bath, Italy – a salt sauna, ancient Rome – the hottest baths, Spain – an open-air bath with a waterfall, and Finland – a choice of hot saunas and cold-water baths. Of course, I tried all of them!
Time to relax
After all the activities (washing, soaking, swimming, washing again and drying), I went to the relaxation lounge. It had many comfortable reclining chairs and several oversized TV screens. It was dead quiet there.
These reclining chairs had a headrest with speakers and remote control. The patrons could find a favorite channel and listen to it without disturbing other people. It looked a little eerie: the room was full of people, TVs showed different programs, and there was absolute silence in the hall.
Other amenities of the Spa World
At the end of the day, I went to one of the Spa World restaurants and ordered okonomiyaki pancakes, my favorite Japanese dish. All around me, people ate, sitting at the low tables. From time to time someone would come up to the small stage to sing karaoke.
I spent a few hours in the bath areas and was too relaxed to use some other amenities of the Spa World, such as the amusement pool, sports gym, stone spa (for women only), rooftop bath, cosmetic salon, massage rooms.
Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures of the facilities; you are not allowed to use a camera or iPhone inside the premises.
If you plan to visit Japan, make sure to include in your itinerary one of my favorite activities – splashing through the Spa World in Osaka.