Monday, October 7, 2019

Adventure 25/50 : Visiting a Japanese onsen -- sorta

One of the highlights of any trip to Japan is a visit to a traditional onsen, or hot spring. But that's hard for us to do as a couple, because so many are single-sex... because so many are clothing-free. Also, many of them ban people with tattoos -- or ask that they be covered. As such, we needed to find a "family" onsen, where swimsuits were required. And then I saw this:

It's a bath full of red wine, at a "spa theme park" called Yunessun, in an area called Hakone, near Mount Fuji. And the red wine bath is only one of the "unique" experiences in the park!

It seemed like the perfect place to go after our Mount Fuji climb, so we booked a hotel near Yunessun and headed there after we came down the mountain.

We didn't really know what to expect, but we took a train and a bus to the hotel, dropped off our things and picked up our spa passes, and walked over to Yunessun.

Billed as a "Hot Springs Theme Park", Yunessun is a massive complex of indoor and outdoor hotspring pools. When you arrive, you take escalators up past event spaces to a floor dedicated to restaurants and shops. One more flight up and you arrive at the front desk, where we held out the little tickets we'd been given and smiled winningly. The staff gave us wristbands that we could use to make purchases inside (no need to carry money!) and had our locker numbers and keys built in. They then sent us over to the rentals area to pick up our rental towels (included in our tickets, somehow).

Then we headed into the massive locker rooms. Apparently there's another set of them upstairs – I think I worked out that up to 5000 people (3000 women, 2000 men) could all have their own locker between the two floors. Wil and I agreed to get changed into our swimsuits and then meet in the hallway. The place felt busy but not crowded, and we soon made our way toward the "swimsuit area".

En route we walked through a "foot bath", and were stopped for a cheesy photo. Irresistible.

The main space is huge, with high ceilings. It's dominated by a massive pool called the "Aegean Sea" – 3 or 4 feet deep and full of various water massage jets. We moved around it for a while to get our bearings.

Yunessun is most famous, of course, for their crazy theme tubs. We didn't spend a lot of time in the tiny "green tea" bath:

"The vivid green hot spring water with soothing tea fragrance beautifies skin and improves blood circulation. No drinking, please."

Or the larger but oddly crowded "sake" bath:

"Genuine sake drips down from a big barrel, but it's not for drinking! It fills the air with a comforting aroma and enters the hot spring to warm you deep inside."

But we did visit the "coffee" bath as they were preparing for the "coffee pouring" – when an employee comes around, talks about coffee, pours it into peoples hands for tasting, and then pours it over the people in the bath. It's actually funnier than that sounds, honest.

First there's the talking…

Then there's the tasting...

Then there's the pouring… (I should be clear that this isn't scalding hot coffee!)

And then there's the throwing buckets over the crowd…

The bathers shriek and laugh, and a good time is had by all.

Because that was fun, we went to the "red wine" bath for the "wine pouring". We had been to the red wine bath earlier in the day, and the smell was almost overpowering. When we went later, about 10 minutes before the "pouring", we noticed the bath was way less red, and not as heavily scented. As we sat there waiting with a few other expectant bathers, an employee came in and sprinkled a bucket of what I could only describe as "wine powder" into the bath. As it dispersed, the bath turned wine dark (ha!) and the scent returned.

Then the "sommelier" came in with several bottles of wine. He talked about it for a bit, probably reminding people NOT TO DRINK THE BATHWATER, and then people moved forward to get some wine poured into their hands.

Then he pulled up couples to have it poured over them. As the wine was cold and the pool was hot, everyone shrieked as it hit them.

We loved this guy (wonder where he's from?) who went up on his own for the wine shower:

After everyone had been baptized, the "throwing wine over the bathers" frenzy started.

I managed to get a hit right in the face at some point, which was pretty funny.

Crazy theme tubs – oh, and Doctor Fish, of course! – aside, there were other delights on offer.

Outside there is a huge kids' play area – you know the kind with the giant filling/dumping bucket? There are also three waterslides with have hot water running on them, so they're open year round, which is pretty fun to think about watersliding in the snow…

There's also a funny set of shallow "cave pools" with lights and aquariums set in the walls.

Oh, and then there's the hot waterfall, which again must be really amazing in the winter!

But my favorite spot in the park is the massive, three-tier hot tub arranged with views of the nearby hills -- I mean "Open-air hot spring with fine view". During our visit it was a bit cloudy so we didn't have much of a view, but it was still amazing to sit outside in these tubs and chat quietly.

I should note that there is a very traditional, sex-segregated onsen area in Yunessun, but we couldn't visit because we each have a couple of small tattoos. The photos on the Yunessun site make it look extra lovely, though!

We visited Yunessun during our trip to Hakone. Our hotel booking included guest passes for "the entire time of our stay" (1 nights = 2 days of passes), but we were pretty happy with just the one day. Maybe if the weather hadn't been great the second day we would have gone back? We did really have fun there, and while we didn't a "traditional" onsen experience, we were still really happy to have visited.

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