We’ve landed in Japan, and as we taxi to the terminal, I furtively dry my eyes- I always get emotional landing here. We disembark, go through immigration and answer the usual questions from customs staff – a much quicker process if you speak Japanese.
The brisk air greets us as the terminal doors open, which is so welcome after humid Hong Kong, where it’s still 25 degrees in December! We settle into a taxi and in ten minutes we’re at an onsen complex.
For no more than $15, we’re treated to a variety of indoor and outdoor onsen, kazokuburo 家族風呂 (private bath, which can be reserved), 岩盤浴 hot stone spa (lying on hot stones and sweating is both incredibly relaxing and energising) and chill out area with heated floors, cold drinks and shelves of manga. There is no time limit and it closes at 3am, so if we were inclined we could spend the entire day there. For an added charge, there is also massage, facials and even a fortune teller.
Hungry after an onsen circuit, I slip into a yukata in order to head to the cosy restaurant. Embarrassed, I approach a staff member to ask how best to tie the obi – I already stick out like a sore thumb and don’t want to stick out even more with any yukata faux pas. She’s grandmotherly, and assures me it’s ok to tie it in a relaxed fashion as I’m here to relax and be comfortable. She says since I’m young, a cute bow on the side is appropriate. Her warmth is so welcome after Hong Kong, and I wonder how much longer I’ll be referred to as ‘young’ 😉
Sashimi, tempura, chawan mushi and grilled salmon… Everything tastes amazingly fresh. It’s never this good outside Japan. We chat, laugh and enjoy each other’s company, and then head back to our respective gendered onsen section.
I reflect that while paying 1500 yen for such a lengthy period of quiet and relaxation, I’d be paying at least 1500 Hong Kong dollars for a shorter experience at a fancy spa in Hong Kong. In spite of the fact that Hong Kongers generally radiate anxiety and really need to chill, such an accessible ‘spa for the people’ would never work there. No one would keep quiet or adopt any of the restraint needed for everyone to enjoy a public space.
Another circuit: 岩盤浴 (hot stones), a shower and indoor onsen followed by primping and preening in front of the mirror. Blow-dried and moisturised, I emerge to meet him. It’s 3pm, hotel check in time. We vow to make this a routine every time we have a morning arrival.