Funoaka Onsen, Kyoto, Japan
Here at WoWasis, we’re clean freaks, or can’t you tell? We’ve reported on Thai toilet hoses, soapy massages, Bangkok Korean scrubs, you name it, we just wanna be clean. It turns out that the Japanese, like the Thais and Koreans, are water people, and they revere their public baths, which they call onsen.
And there’s one in Kyoto, called Funaoka Onsen, that’s off-the-scale good. And for 410 yen (about $4 USD), it can’t be beat. They’ve got both men’s and women’s sides of the house. Each side has a variety of hot baths, water jets, sauna, cypress wood tub, cold bath, tepid bath, and something they call “electric bath,” which apparently sends a low-velocity current through you. We spent an hour there, with Japanese men that shaved, washed, bathed, brushed their teeth, abluted like crazy, and we were welcomed.
Here’s what you do: Japanese bath etiquette:
If you’re dirty, you’ll go to the sit-down stations and soap and shower off. Japanese baths are for soaking, not cleaning. Once you’re squeaky clean, choose one of those large tubs, and climb in. Yeah, you’re supposed to use the small towel you brought with you as a fig leaf, but forget about it. Here, no one cares about naked, it’s all about clean. If you’re a first-timer, we recommend that you try all the baths. Dip your toe in to test the temperature, and immerse yourself in your favorite. Veteran Japanese bath goers like to take one of those plastic buckets that are all over the place, scoop out some water from the baths they’re about to go in, then drench themselves head to foot outside of the bath before they go in.
What to bring:
You can bring as little as a small towel, which is used for scrubbing as well as drying yourself, when wrung out. But you’d better shower first before you get there. If not bring soap and shampoo and clean off at the sitting stations. We brought deodorant and foot cream, so headed back out on the street clean as a whistle, and smelling great.
Many neighborhoods in Japan have onsen, so ask your hotel where the nearest one is. Bring a small towel from your hotel, and plan on 1-2 hours. This is an experience you won’t forget. And if you live in a western country, you may very well leave the onsen wondering where we westerners went wrong, in the hygienic department.
Bayoneting at the onsen
What to see:
In the changing rooms, there are elaborate carvings showing the Japanese conquest of Manchuria. Some people are offended by the violence, in particular the bayoneting scene. We are placing it on this page so you can enjoy your hot bath and not worry about it. If it indeed bothers you, please visit our report on Iris Chang’s book and funeral.
82-1 Minami-Funaoka-cho-Murasakino, Kita-Ku
Tel: (075) 441-3735
Open 3 pm – 1 am, Mon-Sat
8 am – 1 am Sundays, holidays
GPS address: N35°02’13’’ E135°44’40’’
One way to get there: Take the 206 bus west from Kitaoji bus Terminal, . When it turns south, get off at the Senbon Kuramaguchi stop. At the next street south, turn left and walk 500 or so meters. Look for the big house with lots of rocks in front.