Onsen (Hot Spring)
Brief Overview of Hot Springs (Onsen) in Japan
Nearly 30,000 “Onsen” Hot Spring Spas in Japan
Onsen is a public bath place which uses hot water from hot springs, but the word Onsen is usually refer to the inns around the hot spring or onsen resorts. For its geographical location on the earth, Japan has many volcanos compare to other countries, so it is well-known for the best hot spring place in the world. According to the government survey, Japan has 27,671 onsen in all over the nation.
Based on the type of heat source, hot springs are divided into volcanic hot springs whose heat source is underground magma of volcanoes and non-volcanic hot springs which are not related to volcanoes. Depending on contained ingredients, there are a variety of hot springs in terms of color, smell and health benefits.
Onsen is Japan’s Big Tourism Attraction
In western countries, hot springs has been often utilized for the medical treatment, but in Japan, it is recognized as relaxing tourism spot, and play very important role in Japanese tourism. There are many famous Onsen resorts in Japan, especially in country side. Onsen attracts many tourist who wants to relax in a nature for getting away from the busy life style of city. It is popular to visit Japanese style inns (Ryokan) or onsen resort hotels to getting a onsen bath in a nature and eat delicious cuisines with family, couple, or friends. Japanese often emphasize the virtues of "naked communication” for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of onsen. Nowadays, the “reserved onsen" (private onsen bathing tub), is getting popular according to the increase of tourists from other countries.
More than Thousand Year History of Onsen
The Old books of Japanese history published in 6th century already noted the existence of onsen in the country. It described that it was used for the purifying ritual in Japanese religion “Shinto” and the enjoyment of the emperors. Since then, bathing culture of Onsen spread across the country even to the citizens. It is said that the reason why people started to gather around the onsen is because to hunt the wild animals which come to drink hot spring water to absorb minerals.
Healing Potency of Onsen by its Mmineral Content
The legal definition of an Onsen includes that its water must contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements, including such minerals as iron, sulfur, and metabolic acid and be 25 °C or warmer before being reheated. Stratifications exist for waters of different temperatures.
In Japan, it is believed that Onsen has healing potency derived from its mineral content. Due to the location of the onsen, it has many variation of the mineral composition in each onsen. Many onen resorts promote the potency of their onsen by promoting characteristics of their onsen water or mineral composition. Many people believe that onsen and Japanese food plays one of the major roles of Japanese having the longest life expectancy in the world.
Documentary of Japanese Hot Spring "Onsen" (4:47)
History of Onsen in Japan
History and Use of Onsen Hot Springs in Japan
As there are many volcanoes in Japan, there are many volcanic hot springs and many legends or mythologies related to hot springs have been passed down. For hot springs that have a long history, the record of their use is also found in old literature.
According to Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), Shoku Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan continued), Manyoshu (Collection of Thousand leaves) and Shui Wakashu (Collection of Gleanings of Japanese Poems), Tamatsukuri-onsen Hot Spring, Arima-onsen Hot Spring, Dogo-onsen Hot Spring, Nanki-Shirahama-onsen Hot Spring and Akiu-onsen Hot Spring were used for the Shinto rituals for purification and the Emperors' visits to hot springs. In the Engishiki Shinmyo Cho (list of jinja shrines) compiled during the Heian period, several shrines, including Onsen-jinja Shrine, whose enshrined deity was the deity of hot spring were listed.
During the Edo period, Ekken KAIBARA, Gonzan GOTO and Yoan UDAGAWA etc. published books concerning spa therapy as well as picture guides of hot springs and hot springs became popular among ordinary citizens. At that time, hot springs were separated into zatto (hot springs for common people), the ones which were open to ordinary citizens, and tonosamayu (hot springs for people with higher rank) or kagiyu (hot springs for people with higher rank), which were used only by shogunate officials, local governors and the lords of domains. These were called 'choninyu' (hot springs for merchants) and 'samuraiyu' (hot springs for samurai warriors) respectively. Each domain established a hot spring office and the chief of such an office called Yubugyo or Yubetto was in charge of collecting hot spring tax.
As a practice, ordinary citizens visited hot springs for the purpose of seasonal toji (hot spring cure) such as Shogatsu no yu (new year toji), Kan toji (winter toji), Hana toji (spring toji) and Aki toji (autumn toji). They regularly visited the same hot spring every year for the purpose of fatigue recovery and health promotion. Further, 'toji customs, ' which still remain at present, had taken root during the Edo period. Varieties of toji customs, such as mineral sand bath, cascading bath, steam hot bath and mixed bath, were created taking advantage of the characteristics of respective hot springs.
Thanks to the explosive spread in the use of boring technology called Kazusa-bori around the end of 19th century, a lot of new hot springs became available during the Meiji period. Drilling hot springs at Beppu-onsen Hot Spring, whose number of hot spring wells accounts for about 1/10 of Japan's aggregate number, was also bolstered by this technology. At present, a plural number of hot spring suppliers are supporting Beppu-onsen Hot Spring whose number of hot spring wells and the yield of hot water is the largest in Japan.
Hot springs and Therapy
During the Meiji period, scientific research of hot springs became vigorous. Since the Showa period, the medical effect of hot springs has been verified thanks to the advance of hot spring medicine and analytical chemistry and the range of users of hot springs have widened. At Beppu-onsen Hot Spring where hot spring resources are abundant, a Military hospital was established in 1912 and a Naval hospital was also established in 1925. In 1931, Research Institute of Balneotherapeutics of Kyushu University was established and the research of hot spring therapy has been conducted there.
Spread of City Onsen Hot Springs
In recent years, drilling hot springs has been vigorously conducted around the nation with the aim of regional development and attracting tourists. Even in big cities like Tokyo, bathhouses whose draws are hot springs have started business and are attracting many clients.
Manners of Onsen Bathing
First of all, you will completely undress in the dressing room. And you won't wear a swimsuit. You must be naked when you enter an onsen. It is Japanese traditional culture to be naked when you getting an onsen bath. You can bring a small towel with you into the bathing area which can be used to wash your body and to hide your private parts (if you want) outside the water. You don't necessarily have to cover your parts, but it's a good idea to not show them off or draw attention to them anyway. It is recommended to take off your accessories and watches.
In Japan, Tattoos are symbol of Yakuza, which is the crime organization, so many onsen places ban people with tattoo. This rule is often applied to even tourists from overseas. WEven though the tattoos are "peaceful" and small, you won't be allowed to take bath in onsen. Meanwhile, some onsen places allow people with tattoos if they put the designated seal on it to cover the tattoos.
Once in the bathing area, you will rinse off and wash before getting into the tub. This is important as it allows you to get used to the hot temperature and also keeps the bath water clean for other bathers. The water may feel a little too hot for those not used to it, as it's around 40°C. Also, don't dive or jump into the tub. Bathing stations are equipped with stools, faucets, wooden buckets, and toiletries such as soap and shampoo; nearly all Onsen also provide removable shower heads for bathing convenience. Entering the Onsen while still dirty or with traces of soap on the body is socially unacceptable.
Don't put your towel into the water. Put it on your head, the edge of the tub or a rock near you. In some onsen, the water is milky white and nobody can see your body in the water.
Feel free to say hello to other bathers. Japanese people may be shy and not good at English, but your greeting will break the ice and start some small talk in a friendly atmosphere.
Onsen vary from quiet to noisy, some play traditional Japanese music and often feature gushing fountains. Bathers will engage in conversation in this relaxed situation. There are usually prohibitions against rowdiness in the washing and bathing areas. Also, do not swim in the bath tub. Onsen is the place for relaxing.
Use of Onsen in Japan
Use of hot springs
During the era when the use of hot water for bathing was not common and the knowledge of hygiene and medical care was insufficient, hot spring was highly valued because of its marvelous benefits for injuries and diseases. In the legends related to the origin of hot springs, many tales are found such as the one saying to the effect that a dear, a crane or an egret successfully cured their injuries and the one saying to the effect that famous Buddhist monks, such as Kukai, discovered the hot spring. Such hot springs were either owned by temples/shrines or co-owned by neighboring communities.
In the Edo period, increasing guests visited for toji in agricultural off-season and the facilities to accommodate them became hot spring hotels. The pattern of toji also shifted from long-stay type to overnight type, which is similar to the current ones.
Though the use of hot springs is considered as one of medical treatment in Europe, hot springs are used in Japan basically for a recreational purpose as part of sightseeing tour. Many hot springs are used by schools as a lodge for training and school excursions. Needless to say, there still exist guests whose purpose is toji.
Following are the Varieties in the use of Onsen Hot Spring in Japan.
Bathing within time-limits
Kusatsu-onsen Hot Spring (Gunma Prefecture, high-temperature bathing (above 42 degree Celsius))
Bathing in tepid hot spring water/long time bathing
Bathing in hot spring water with insensible temperature (34-37 degree Celsius), Bathing in tepid hot spring water 37 - 39 degree Celsius)
Bathing in cold spring water
Masutomi-onsen Hot Spring (Yamanashi Prefecture), Kannojigoku-onsen Hot Spring (Oita Prefecture)Varieties in the way of bathing
Utaseyu (Cascading bathing)
Utase-daiyokujo (Sujiyu-onsen Hot Spring, Oita Prefecture), Hyotan Onsen (Beppu-onsen Hot Spring Kannawa-onsen Hot Spring)
Hita-onsen Hot Spring (Oita Prefecture)
Tachiyu (standing bathing)
Namari-onsen Hot Spring (Iwate Prefecture)
Neyu (lying bathing)
Yonodani-onsen Hot Spring
Ashiyu (foot bathing)
Facilities are set at many places and many of them are free of charge. The one which set at Michi-no-eki Tarumizu (Kagoshima Prefecture) has the longest bench in Japan.
Mushiyu (steam bathing)
Ishimuro (rock chamber)
Kannawa steam bath (spread with crude drug of sweet flags: Beppu-onsen Hot Spring Kannawa-onsen Hot Spring in Oita Prefecture)
Hakomushi (box sauna)
Goshogake-onsen Hot Spring (Akita Prefecture)
Sunamushi (mineral sand bath)
Ibusuki-onsen Hot Spring (Kagoshima Prefecture), Takegawara-onsen Hot Spring (Beppu-onsen Hot Spring in Oita Prefecture), Beppu Kaihin Sunayu (Shoninhama Beach at Kamekawa Spa, Beppu-onsen Hot Spring in Oita Prefecture)
Manju-fukashi (a kind of steam bath)
Sugayu-onsen Hot Spring (Aomori Prefecture)
Ganbanyoku (a kind of stone sauna)
Tamagawa-onsen Hot Spring (Akita Prefecture) (Akita Prefecture)
Doroyu (mud bath)
Onsen Hoyo Land Resort (Beppu-onsen Hot Spring Myoban-onsen Hot Spring in Oita Prefecture), Suzume-no-yu (Jigoku-onsen Hot Spring in Kumamoto Prefecture), Misasa-onsen Hot Spring (Tottori Prefecture), Goshogake-onsen Hot Spring (Akita Prefecture)
Insen (drinking hot spring water)
At each place, when drinking, attention should be paid as it may damage health depending on the person.
Collecting yunohana (deposits of hot spring minerals)
The production technique of yunohana at Beppu-onsen Hot Spring Myoban-onsen Hot Spring (Myoban) is designated as important intangible assets of folk culture.
Examples of hot spring utilization for food processing
Jigoku-mushi (boiled in hot steam of hot springs)
Those produced at Beppu-onsen Hot Spring Kannawa-onsen Hot Spring in Beppu City are well-known. Fish and/or vegetables are steamed in the Jigokugama (pot) which uses hot spring steam. The advantage of this cooking method is to retain ingredients.
Onsen tamago (eggs boiled in hot spring water)
Eggs are boiled in high-temperature spring water.
At Nozawa-onsen Hot Spring (Nagano Prefecture), hot spring water is used for the preparation of Nozawana pickles as well as boiling frozen Nozawana in winter. Further, it is well-known that local people use a public bath for the preparation of Nozawana.
Onsen natto (hot spring fermented soybeans)
Onsen natto is produced at Kuroishi-onsenkyo Spa and Shima-onsen Hot Spring etc.
Utilization of hot spring mud
Thanks to the joint research conducted by the Medical Department of Oita University, Hiroshima University, Nippon Bunri University, University and Padua and Oita Industrial Research Institute, Fangotica, material used for hot spring mud cosmetology, was developed in Beppu City with the use of hot spring mud of various colors collected at the sources of hot spring.
Hot Springs Around The World
Hot Springs Around The World
The purposes of the use of hot springs around the world are basically divided into several categories; namely, taking a rest through bathing (it is mainstream in Japan), recuperation by bathing, enjoying while bathing (such as swimming), drinking (drinking of hot spring water) and utilizing steam (sauna and steam bath). Taking a rest by bathing is a unique Japanese culture which reflects its humid climate (Japanese-style bathing is spread exceptionally in some regions in Asia). Globally, hot springs are considered to be used for enjoying, healing, drinking or steaming. However, thanks to the current Japanese cultural boom as well as the spread of Onsen culture (to be mentioned later), Japanese-style bathing is gradually spreading globally.
Hot Springs in Europe
In Europe, 'drinking hot spring water,' namely drinking of hot spring water, is deeply rooted as hot spring culture in particular. Carlsbad, a famous hot spring after which the name of Carls hot spring was created, is a hot spring for drinking.
In Europe, however, bathing was the mainstream up to 15th century. However, hot spring resorts didn't develop there because of the small quantity of hot spring water as well as its low temperature resulting from the lack of a volcanic belt. In addition, bathing was considered to be harmful for a body due to the spread of infectious diseases, such as the plague, as well as social background including religious reasons and the practice of bathing was shied away from by people (concerning the details, refer to the item of bathing). On the other hand, as the quality of drinking water was poor in Europe, some visitors to hot spring resorts used to drink hot spring water. Many of the hot spring resorts took advantage of the above and started to sell bottled hot spring water. Such bottled hot spring water gained a good reputation and since then, the notion of "hot spring was water to drink," namely the practice of drinking hot spring water took root as culture. Evian (mineral water) and Vichy, well-known brand of bottled water, make use of hot spring water. In Japan, Wilkinson Ginger Ail originally used hot spring water as an ingredient.
As the drinking of hot spring water showed clear medical effects, it was soon associated with medical science. In Japan, by contrast, spa therapy had been deemed as folk therapy for a while because of the adoration for the newly imported western medicine and spa research was delayed. (However, research activities was continuously conducted at Beppu-onsen Hot Spring, where the big-scale facilities for sick and wounded soldiers were operated by Army/Navy, and Misasa-onsen Hot Spring by establishing a hot spring hospital and in cooperation with neighboring universities. )
Bath and Carlsbad, well-known as the town of hot spring currently, have developed as health resorts and there are hot spring hospitals and nursing homes at present. Like in Japan, recuperation in a hot spring is also common in Europe. Although hotels and restaurants also exist, they don't have the facilities for hot spring bathing inside the building (the fact that the climate in Europe, especially in west and east Europe, is not so humid as Japan is a big reason why the culture of bathing has not developed). Instead, they have facilities for drinking hot spring water and hot spring water drinking bars (bar).
By contrast, limited number of hot spring resorts, such as Baden-Baden and Spa, were places for bathing originally. Unlike in Japan, however, the notion of 'soaking' doesn't exist even at these places. Baden-Baden in Germany has developed as a resort town where casinos, boutiques, jewel shops and high-grade hotels are located, rather than as a hot spring resort. Hot spring water is also used for saunas and showers. Other than the above, there are public baths and many people swim in a big bath using hot spring water in the same fashion as in a swimming pool (swimming is deemed as the breach of manners in Japan). Unlike in Japan, the practice of bathing naked doesn't exist in Europe and people wear swimsuits. Therefore, many of baths have no seperation between men and women. In this sense, public baths can be said as the place where people get used to hot water, something like hot swimming pools in Japan. The situation in New Zealand to be mentioned later is similar to Europe.
Spas in Belgium, which have became the common name for international hot spring resorts, have developed as hot springs for recuperation. As its hot spring district is small and baths for recuperation are set in each hotel room, its atmosphere resembles to that of hot springs for toji in Japan. However, bathing is done solely for the purpose of recuperation and unlike in Japan, the notion of "soaking leisurely and relieving fatigue" doesn't exist.
Hot spring culture in Hungary, where public baths were constructed during the ancient Roman period, has a history of nearly 2000 years. Budapest is rich in hot springs. There also exists a hot water lake (Lake Hévíz).
Hot Springs in the U. S.
In America, some hot springs are scattered along the volcanic belt, though the number is less than in Japan. The most famous one among them are the Hot Springs in Arkansas. In 1541, the Spanish discovered a hot spring which had been used by indigenous people from long ago and named it Hot Springs (namely, the place where hot water gushes out). However, in spite of the abundant quantity of hot spring water, bathing is not necessary there because the humidity level is as low as in Europe. Therefore, hot spring water is only used for showers, saunas and massage and the development of the town is supported by casinos and resort facilities. Further, hot spring water of Hot Springs has been believed to be good for health without concrete grounds and there has been no affiliation between hot springs and medical science. Under such circumstances, hot spring exploitation itself is in the stage of development relative to the size of the country.
Hot Springs in Asian Countries
Hot spring culture of "soaking," similar to that of Japan, is rooted in the Republic of Korea. This is the result of Japanese people's exploitation of hot springs in Korean Peninsula in the wake of Japan's annexation of Korean Peninsula. Though there are few volcanoes in Korea, there are a lot of hot springs with high temperatures. Japanese people who visit hot springs in Korea for the first time sometimes suffer culture shock due to the difference in culture between two countries (for example, Koreans bring nothing when bathing). There exists traditional steam bath called Asemushi (sweat sauna).
Hot Springs in Oceania
In Oceania, New Zealand is famous for having a lot of hot springs. There are many hot springs thanks to the presence of many volcanoes. Indigenous people Maori knew the benefits of hot springs and used them for recuperation. In the early 20th century, New Zealand strived to develop hot spring resorts nationwide taking advantage of its abundant hot spring water. Such development, however, didn't progress very much because its climate was not as humid as that of Japan and the practice of bathing was not prevalent among the white people who settled there. At present, the use of hot springs in New Zealand is linked with healthcare activities, such as sports and exercise, and hot springs have developed as health resorts where people shed sweat after participating in sports and/or outdoor activities. Swimming pools which use hot spring water are very popular among people and the core facilities of a hot spring town.
Therapeutic Effects of Japanese Onsen
All the hot springs that does not contain enough minerals meet the criteria for specific Onsen are categorized as Simple Thermal Spring. This is the most common type of spring found in Japan.
A wide range of mild effects
The soda water expands the blood vessels and lowers the blood pressure. It also retains the body temperature.
This type of Spring is found in highlands of volcanic countries like Japan. Acidic spring is stimulus and its antibacterial effect is said to be good for the skin, however not recommended for people with sensitive skin. Also, the highlands with acidic spring has been a popular place to visit to develop physical strength.
Chronic Skin Disease, Chronic Gynecological Disorders etc
Sulphur spring that contains hydrogen sulfide has a distinct smell of bad eggs. It is said that the vapor containing hydrogen sulfide is good for the chronic bronchitis. However, the gas is toxic and proper ventilation is essential. Sulphur spring expands the blood vessels and helps reduce the blood pressure.
Cuts, Diabetes, Chronic Skin Disease, High Blood Pressure, Joint Pain etc
There are two types of Ferruginous Spring: Carbonated Iron Spring, and Melanterite Spring. As the spring oxidizes, it gets brown. Ferruginous Spring is said to replenish the body's iron levels through the absorption from the skin, and drinking.
Menstrual disorders, Anemia, etc
This spring is known as "water for cuts and bruises". There are three types of springs: Calcium sulphate, Sodium sulphate, and Magnesium sulphate.
Cuts, Burns, Chronic Skin Disease, Arteriosclerosis, Chronic Constipation(when drunk) etc
Sodium Bicarbonate is alkaline. It washes off the fat from the surface of the skin and makes the skin smooth, therefore, it is called "water for the beautiful skin". After bathing, water evaporates quickly from the surface of the skin and cools off the body.
Cuts, Burns, Chronic Skin Disease, etc
There are 3 types of Chloride Springs (Salt, Calcium, and Magnesium ). Being an island, Japan has many Salt Chloride Springs. Salt connects with the protein and the fat on the surface of the skin and retains the body temperature.
Cuts, Burns, Chronic Skin Disease, Chronic Gynecological Disorders, Muscle/Joint Pain etc