My First Onsen Experience

July 31st, 2012By Category: Culture



After working for months to clean out my husband’s apartment, it was now time to graduate from our respective universities and make the move to Japan. It was a gruelling task but time was going so quickly that we were soon looking at our last day in Oregon. I had made the trip to Japan before, but this time was different. I was moving there!

Many tears were shed as I said my farewells to family and friends. Then we were on the plane and suddenly in Tokyo! It was decided that before having us go home to Nagasaki, we were to make a short stop in Tokyo and then hop up north to make an official visit to my husband’s grandparents’ house. Tokyo was a blur.

Luckily I had my husband with me to guide me along. He took me to Akihabara and I followed him around as he excitedly bought electronics and games. Things were so different, so busy, and so unfamiliar that I barely had time to process anything. I did not know the language at all. I had been practicing a few phrases, but if I had been on my own I would have been hopelessly lost. My husband had spent nearly every summer of his youth with his mother in Tokyo visiting family. I met his childhood friend and we stayed at his house.

Both my husband’s friend’s mother and my mother-in-law have been friends for many years and the two talked constantly. My husband would laugh and talk and then occasionally turn to me to translate what was going on. It was hard to keep up. We only stayed a day or two before we were moved on to my husband’s uncle’s home. Then we moved again, now up north, to see my husband’s father’s family.

I could sense the tension on the morning of our departure. My husband and my mother-in-law were clearly nervous about seeing the family.

We took the Shinkansen, or bullet train. It was fun to buy a bento and eat it on the train. But I didn’t really get the feeling that I was going so fast. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was just a nice, clean, sharp looking train.

We arrived at the station and then had to take a cab. We were a few minutes late, really literally only a few minutes late, when we arrived at a small resort style hotel that was famous for its onsen, or hot spring. Without knowing the language, I knew that my father-in-law was upset that we had made his family wait.

Time was still something I was going to have to get used to now that I was living in Japan. My husband’s father had paid to have all of his family stay there to celebrate our marriage there, rather than pay to have them brought down to Nagasaki a few months later.

I barely had time to ask questions to my husband before we were being whisked away and told to enjoy the onsen before eating. My husband was gone–to the boys’ side–and I was left to strip bare for my first public bathing experience. I was so in shock that I couldn’t really feel upset or self-conscious. I curved my body forward to keep myself small and tried to disappear into the walls around me. I had barely bowed my hellos to these women and now we were all going to see each other naked. Luckily people aren’t very talkative in onsen, or maybe it is just my in-laws, but we bathed and relaxed, and were out getting dressed again.

The meal was an elaborate, delicious meal. My husband’s grandfather kept talking to my husband thinking he was an older cousin, and we had a good evening. My husband’s grandfather then gave him a fairly large amount of money as a wedding gift. I was in shock and would see many more surprising things as my wedding in Japan was just around the corner.


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Author of this article

Being A Broad

Started in Tokyo in 1997 by Caroline Pover, Being A Broad has already helped thousands of women make the most of their lives in Japan through a monthly magazine, events and seminars, a number one best-selling book, and an active discussion board.

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