Keep it clean

Start with a thorough prewash. It’s not just considered rude and unhygienic, it’s against the rules to get into a communal bath without giving yourself a serious scrub-down first.

There’s a special area set aside for this, with benches and wooden buckets and a hand-held shower.

By the time my first communal bath came around, I was ready to do some ostentatious public scrubbing. The more vigorous the scrub, the better, and I was amazed at how some of the old hands – some of them wonderfully wrinkled octogenarians – literally left none of their own creases un-seen-to.

Description: Description: Women's Large Bath Room and Outdoor Bath (Fresh hot spring bath)

Women's Large Bath Room and Outdoor Bath (Fresh hot spring bath)

The wooden washing stalls reminded me of stables. The complimentary shampoo even had a picture of a horse on it. It was so rich and lathery I bought some from the gift shop. (And fervently hoped the small print I couldn’t read didn’t reveal any horse products in the ingredients!)

If you have long hair you need to tie it up to keep it out of the bath water. You never  put your Onsen towel into the communal bath water either, but you can fold it and put it on the top of your head. This is supposed to help keep you cool, but I preferred the effect of a cold shower between baths. My Onsen routine was one of contrasts -  a hot soak followed by a blast of icy water that really gets your circulation going!

All that would follow, once I conjured up enough courage to brave the glass corridor. As I grateful that at least I have no tattoos – not only are they frowned upon, but some baths won’t admit you if you’re inked.

David was far away (I hoped) in one of the areas designated for men, and I really needed to take the plunge.

Long walk to blissdom

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It felt like the longest corridor I ever traversed. To this day I still don’t know what lay on the other side of that glass, other than deep dark night. But the journey was so worth it: eventually the corridor opened out into a series of stone pools on the high cliff overlooking the river.

It was so Zen I didn’t mind not being able to speak to anyone. The four Japanese women who had arrived there ahead of me soon left, and I was blissfully alone.

I couldn’ve stayed there forever, but soaking in a hot tub is hungry work and dinner was calling. I’d thought things couldn’t get any better. But when I got to our Japanese-style room, with its low table and cushion-seats on the clean tatami floors, it was to find the most incredible feast I had ever seen laid out for us.

Description: Description: The food looked too beautiful to eat

The food looked too beautiful to eat

The food looked too beautiful to eat – sashimi presented in bowls sculpted from ice; radishes sliced into artistic swirls of purple on white; dollhouse-sized pumpkins made of bean paste with little acorn tops; and paper-thin kobi beef with miniature mushrooms to boil in broth on a small gas burner. All of it delicious.

When we first entered our room, I’d looked around for the bedroom, and was perplexed to find there wasn’t one. I was about to find out why. After our feast was finished we set off for one last soak, and returned to find the table cleared and a king-sized futon with a silky quilt laid out and waiting.

As I drifted odd to sleep I watched a single yellow maple leaf waft down to meet its reflection on mirror of deep teal water, leaving a faint watermark on my skin.

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