Onsen | Gabriel
I felt fatigued and strung out following the Mt. Fuji hike. I had awoken at 12 AM the previous night to reach the summit and see the sunrise, a physical and figurative peak of the journey. But following the 12 hours of hiking, a stuffy bus ride, and a sweaty walk to the hostel, I was physically and emotionally drained. It was now around 2 PM and Chandler suggested we visit an onsen, a Japanese hot springs spa. I gladly agreed, but I did not realize what a heavenly experience I could purchase with a mere 11 dollars. The required shower before entering the springs was incredibly cleansing, as my most recent rinse had been before leaving Beijing, and I had a cramped plane ride, a nap on Haneda airport's floor, and the long Fuji pilgrimage to scrub off with warm water and mildly scented wash. Yet nothing could compare to the first dip into the outdoor hot bath. The heat of water pulled the tension from my legs, tension I hadn't been fully aware of until it left me. The shivers from the freezing winds at the top of Fuji were pushed from my core and replaced with a content hug of warmth. My mind, fuzzy from sleep deprivation, was quickly soothed too, as my focus shifted to my current state of calm over any specific train of thought. We lounged in the spring for a while, soaking in the water and absorbing the ambience. The overall quiet, gentle gurgling of water, and well trimmed bushes framing the stone providing a relaxing appeal to non-tactile senses .
After some time, the heat became a bit overwhelming, so we took a dip into the adjacent cold bath. While jarring, the sharp transition from extreme hot to cold brought upon an acute mental clarity and a necessary cool down. Next, we dipped into the chamomile flavored bath. This one had a more mild temperature and was located in a closed-off gazebo. While just a few notches above lukewarm, my legs still tingled as the blood flooded back after the clenching splash of the cold bath. The nostalgic scent of chamomile brought a slightly different headspace, introducing intrigue while i continued to enter a deeper state of calm.
Following the chamomile bath was a venture into the steam room, a large and dark room with instantly oppressive heat. The steam pressed into my skin and pooled into sweat-like tracts running down my body. This room provided a cavernous echo, and Chandler and I sung "Misty Mountains" from "The Hobbit." The acoustics multiplied our voices as the deep dwarven tone swelled to fill the space and bounced off the stone walls. "Far over the misty mountains cold, through dungeons deep and caverns old." The words were oddly fitting. Following the trek through and above the clouds, we now harmonized in a shadowy cave-like environment.
The steam could only be endured for so long, so we eventually tried another notable bath, one with carbonic acid. The acid lightly nibbled at my skin, and ticklish bubbles congregated. Following this bath, I felt smooth and spotless. We headed up the stairs to the panoramic bath, a hot spring similar to the very first, but with a view of Mt. Fuji in the distance. I leaned back and watched small black birds flit across the sky. The onsen was a beautiful contrast to the arduous mountain climb, the walk of atonement through rocks, volcanic ash, and the whip of the wind.
The rest of the visit was spent bath hopping, as we sank into all the previously mentioned baths along with a sauna and cave room, often alternating with the cold bath to refresh our tolerance for the heated ones. Before leaving, we sat in the steam room for an extended period, then immediately submerging into the cold bath. After a minute or so, the chill sank into my bones and I was ready to leave, but Chandler suggested we spend just "30 more seconds of nice meditation." By framing it in this manner, it was easy to remain in the frigid water. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing and all cold vanished, replaced by not even a numbness, just nothing. I simply existed. I excited the onsen facility reborn, refreshed, and ready for one last nice meal before heading off to Hitotsubashi.