Onsen – Hot Springs in Japan
Onsen means hot springs in the Japanese language.
Hot Springs is produced by the emergence of geothermal heated groundwater from the Earth’s crust. There are geothermal hot springs in many locations all over the crust of the earth. Therefore, by virtue of Japan being a volcanically active country, it has thousands of Onsens scattered all over the country.
Traditionally, Onsens were used as a public bathing places. The origin of Japanese bathing is Misogi, ritual purification with water.
Origin of Onsens
In Japan, many temples had saunas, which were available for anyone to use for free. In the Heian period, houses of prominent families, such as the families of court nobles or samurai, had baths. The baths then had lost its religious significance and instead became leisure. As such, Misogi became Gyōzui, to bathe in a shallow wooden tub.
In the 17th century, the first European visitors to Japan recorded the habit of daily baths in mixed groups of male and female.
In contemporary times however, many administrative regions require public baths to have separate facilities for males and females. Public baths using water from Onsens were particularly popular.
Today Onsens plays a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism. Towns with hot springs are destination resorts, which are visited daily by the locals and people from other neighbouring towns as well as from all over the world.
Traditionally, onsens were located outdoors, although a large number of inns now have built indoor bathing facilities. Onsens by definition use naturally hot water from geothermal heated springs. Onsens should not be confused with sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water.
Healing Properties of Onsens
Onsen water is often thought to have healing powers due to its mineral properties and Onsens often have several different baths, each augmented by the addition of different minerals or the composition of the tub.
To receive the full benefit of the healing powers of the Onsen water, it is best not to shower or soak in hot water after getting out of the tub.
Some onsens may feature different versions of baths; each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made with tile, acrylic glass or stainless steel.
As such, different onsens may boast about their different waters or mineral compositions, with their different types of healing properties these may contain.
These days, major Onsen resort hotels often feature a wide variety of themed spa baths with artificial landscaped waterfalls in the bathing area.
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