Japan is the land full of culture shocks. But the culture shock that I got in an Onsen was the biggest and the most unexpected. I had heard about Onsens but never got a chance to visit one during so many trips to Japan till my last visit. I knew Onsen was a great natural phenomena which occurred in specific places closer to volcanic activities. The mineral rich hot water in Onsens has medicinal properties which can cure various skin diseases. I also knew that Japan had the highest number of underground hot springs and therefore a lot of Onsens.
What I did not know was experience that came with it was so unique. We visited the Onsen about 200 km from Tokyo in Tateyama. After depositing our belongings in the counter, we were given the Onsen gown, a towel and a napkin... Slightly bigger than a pocket handkerchief. "what is this napkin for", I asked. "you will know soon", my friend winked. I wrapped a towel around and started walking towards the Onsens. I was promptly stopped by the service staff. "only napkin is allowed in the onsens", she exclaimed in her broken english. Now I knew.
Being naked among a large group of people was my worst and the most frequent nightmare. When it happened in real life it was my biggest culture shock. I did take my own time to overcome my shyness and getting used to that state. Nobody was really looking at each other directly but just the fact that there were so many men around who could potentially watch me naked made me nervous. I realized that it takes immense courage to walk naked in a room full of people.
My host was my friend's husband. We did not know each other that well. But once I got used to that state and we got used to each other, we started talking about things that were closer to our hearts, things that we deeply believed in and things that we are ready to do for our loved ones. Such profound and intimate discussions were possible only because we had nothing to hide...literally.
We all are living a busy and rushed life. Everyday morning we get ready, get dressed, put on our masks and look at ourselves in the mirror. That is the image we want to project to the world. Everyday we are busy hiding ourselves from others and we land up hiding us from ourselves. We seldom get a chance to stand naked in front of the mirror, look at ourselves, accept ourselves and be comfortable with what we are. The satisfaction and mental peace you get by facing yourselves naked in the mirror and accepting yourself whole heartedly is worth experiencing.
What is unique about Onsens in Japan? They don't just cure skin diseases, they help you prepare yourself to accept that naked person in the mirror.