Photo:Isriya Paireepairit on Flickr

Healing Powers of Japanese Onsens

Hot springs are natural water heated by subterranean volcanic activity, resulting in a mineral composition and heat of >25 degree celsius. A Japanese hot spring and the bathing facility built around it, is called an onsen. The minerals in the hot springs, promote 'Toji' which is a Japanese expression for Balneotherapy. Many have testified, that soaking in onsens have cured ailments, relaxed muscles, aided beautification, and matured the bonds between family and friends. It is also an opportunity to experience the unique culture of 'hadaka no tsukiai,' (naked relations). 'Hadaka no tsukiai is a mental appreciation of interpersonal relationships beyond physical barriers.

Healing Powers:

  • Refreshes the fatigued
  • Good preventative measure for common illnesses
  • Good for recuperation from illnesses
  • Stimulates the circulatory system and the nervous system
  • Activates cardiopulmonary functions
  • Body absorbs minerals as you relax
  • Provides a change of scenery thus rejuvenating the mind
  • Onsens are especially recommended for those with: neuralgia, sore muscles, arthritis, stiff joints, motor paralysis, bruises, sprains, poor digestive tract, poor circulation, and fatigue.

Types of Onsens

There are many types of hot springs in Japan. The most prevalent ones and their benefits are listed below:

Sulphur Springs (硫黄泉)- are milky-white in color with a peculiar smell

Goshogake Hotsprings (後生掛温泉)
Goshogake Hotsprings (後生掛温泉). Photo: Shigemi.J on Flickr

Soaking in hot springs containing sulphur should:

  • ease chronic bronchitis
  • reduce hardening of the arteries
  • ease chronic dermatitis
  • reduce effects of diabetes and high blood pressure
  • ease joint pain

Salt Springs (食塩泉) - are colorless, retains heat really well, and tastes salty

Soaking in hot springs containing salt should:

  • ease neuralgia
  • ease lower back pain
  • ease muscle and joint pain
  • increase blood circulation

Aluminum Springs - are found in volcanic zones

Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido
Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido. Photo: Lionel Leong on Flickr

Soaking in hot springs containing aluminum should:

  • tighten the skin and mucous membranes
  • ease symptoms of chronic skin disease
  • ease inflammation of mucous membranes
  • heal athlete's foot
  • heal hives

The first time I participated in 'hadaka no tsukiai,' I was terrified. However, I was also determined to dip in the various hot springs that promised comfort beyond my dreams. I had to drop my clothes, swallow my pride, hide behind a small towel, and power walk through the naked bodies. I shook with embarrassment only to realize, no one was looking. Not one person.

As a resident foreigner, being stared at was normal for me. So normal, that in fact, I came to expect it. However, no one looked. They glanced at my face, and looked directly into my eyes when I asked a question. Contradictory to my debilitating negative expectations; I could vanish and no one would have noticed. Everyone was busy interacting with others, and the persons riding solo was busy relaxing with their eyes closed. So, do not let shame, embarrassment or fear stop you. No one cares and the effects of the hot springs are definitely worth the bravery.

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