If You Can’t Take The Heat, Get Out Of The Onsen

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Visiting Mount Aso in Japan

Once we got to the hot spring, it was time to split up. You may have noticed I was the only guy in the picture from the first part of this series, so I had to head off to the male room to sit in some water on my own. The whole experience was uncomfortable in every sense of the word. First of all, the water temperature was ridiculous. I’ve boiled eggs in cooler water. It took me a good five minutes and several burnt-off layers of skin to ease my way into the scalding tub. Second, I was sharing that tub with a group of withered Japanese men, the youngest of whom survived World War Two because he was too old to serve.

Rotenburo hot spring in Japan

I didn’t bring a camera to the hot spring for obvious reasons, so I only have other people’s photos. If our onsen  had had a view like this, I probably would have enjoyed it a bit more. Photo by LeeLeFever.

As these guys were watching me and trying to keep from laughing at my sensitivity to boiling water, they were also slowly drifting away from me. I think they were trying to not be too obvious and hurt my feelings. It worked at first. I didn’t even notice they were moving, until they were all suddenly bunched together on the opposite end of the tub, practically sitting on each other’s laps in an attempt to keep the greatest distance possible between themselves and the crazy foreigner with the burnable skin.

Indoor Onsen in Japan

Our hot spring was more like this, albeit in a larger room with a second tub of cold water. Photo by Sonoe.

Once I was completely in the water, I realized why it needed to be so hot. If the water were comfortable, sitting in it would be incredibly boring. As it was, I was too busy sweating and squirming to feel bored. Instead, I kind of felt like James Bond toward the end of every one of his movies and was half expecting a bald guy with a white cat to come out and watch me squirm in pain while launching into a lengthy explanation of his unnecessarily convoluted and ridiculous plot to extort money from world leaders, giving me time to escape using my exploding pen/cigarette/watch—except there’s no way I would have been able to listen to the whole speech; I was out of that tub in under two minutes and quickly headed across the room to plunge myself in the tub of ice cold water.

Outdoor hot spring in Japan

Another onsen with a great view…no, not him, the valley. Photo by Yosemite.

Needless to say, I had this one all to myself and breathed a deep sigh of relief as the old Japanese men tried in vain to understand our crazy foreign ways. I stayed in the cold water for a few minutes and now that I wasn’t being cooked alive, I could concentrate on my surroundings a bit more and I realized I could hear the girls on the other side of the thin barrier dividing the men’s and women’s rooms.

They were chatting away and actually sounded like they were having a great time. I imagined whoever built this bathhouse had constructed the guys’ room first, learned from their mistakes and outfitted the girls’ room with just one tub, combining the scalding and freezing waters into a bath that was actually pleasant. With that thought, I realized I was getting pretty bored and was now starting to freeze on top of it. It was time to end my first—and, I’m sure I don’t need to mention, my last—onsen experience.

Monkeys in onsen in Japan

It seems I’m very much alone in my dislike of hot springs. Photo by Yosemite.

Hearing the girls across the wall and seeing all the old men bunched together across from me in the hot water, I realized that much of the appeal of a hot spring visit comes from the social aspect. If you go with friends and have someone to talk to, I imagine the whole experience would be considerably less boring. Personally, I prefer to talk to my friends while not being boiled alive, but to each their own.

I headed back outside to wait for the girls. It took them quite a while to get tired of the hot spring and hearing them talk about it afterward, they clearly had a much more enjoyable experience than I did. I think every one of them actually went to several more hot springs during their time in Japan.

Monkey in Jigokudani hot spring in Nagano, Japan

Their thick fur must prevent their skin from boiling off…. Photo by Gilad Raphaelli.

On the way back to our room, we stopped off at a vending machine to get some beers: specifically, those giant cans from the photo in the first part of this series. There’s not much to do in the evening in Aso, so were just going to have a few beers in our room and go to bed. One of the girls had been talking up her ping pong skills ever since we saw the table in the common area of our minshuku, so it was obvious I would have to school her at some point, but I didn’t expect that to take up much time.

We headed down to the common room after a beer or two for our grudge match. We were right in the middle of a nailbiter, when the owner of the minshuku came storming out of his room. He was yelling something we couldn’t understand, but the’ X’ he formed in our faces with his arms made it pretty clear we were not supposed be playing ping-pong.

I think he was trying to inform us we were disturbing the other guests. We never saw a single other person the whole time we were there, so I can only assume they had all gone to bed at 5pm. I really don’t remember it being all that late, so the whole thing didn’t make much sense. Most likely, we were simply disturbing the owner. Either way, we went ahead and stopped our game.

If I’m honest, I can’t remember who was ahead at the time, but I think I’m pretty safe in assuming it was me. Even if it wasn’t, it would have been in the end, so I suppose it was for the better we were never able to finish our match. She was pretty proud of her ping pong skills and I would have felt bad showing her just how much practice she still needed (for once, having a blog no one reads is a good thing, since no one is going to dispute my version of the story).

Series continued in part 3: Viewing Mount Aso’s Crater…For 30 Seconds


  1. says

    Crazy foreigners. You were probably supposed to down two or three cans of beer (or saki) before going in the hot pool – then you wouldn’t have felt anything 😉
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