I stood buck-naked in the room, with a large yellow towel in one hand and a little towel in the other. A naked Japanese man in the pool below me looked up quizzically. I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do. I whistled and looked at the spot where my watch would have been. The Japanese man shook his head. I figured rinsing off was in order, so I wandered over to the spigots in the corner with little wooden seats. I sat down on one, and it collapsed. It turned out to be a bucket, not a seat. I was stuck with my ass in the bucket, legs off the floor, trying to get up. I heard chuckling behind me. I pried the bucket off my butt and sat down again on the granite seat. After some practice, I realized the bucket was intended to be filled from the spigot and then poured over your body. I still hadn't figured out the purpose of the two different sized towels, but sufficiently rinsed, I plunged into the pool.
In a few minutes, some more Japanese men walked in. None of them had the big towel, but they all had the little towel covering their genitals. Doh! The little towel's purpose revealed. I wondered if my walking around with my twinkie swinging had offended anyone. But soon the man who had laughed at me got up. He didn't use the little towel, and I realized why. He was Donkey Man. So much for Japanese stereotypes.
An onsen is not just a simple hot tub. As I learned in Kyoto, Japanese temples, shrines, and onsens are often built to fit naturally into the surrounding environment. At the one I went to, pools were built from large natural rocks, surrounded by little zen-like gardens. You could lean back and stare at the real koi fish pond next to you, ease back into bubble jets built directly into the boulders, or get splattered under the tumbling waterfalls. My favorite was the pool enclosed in cypress wood, with little bubbles streaming up from below. The water was cooler, the air was scented with pine, menthol, and natural cypress smells from the wood itself. It was a wonderful place to meditate at the end of a long onsen soak.
But its not just the pools that make a good onsen. The great ones are situated in beautiful natural settings, in this case directly at the foot of Mt Fuji. Others are built into riverbeds, scenic valleys, or mountain lakes. After my first long soak, I wandered over to the tatami room and took a snooze. But I couldn't resist the wonderful looking chair in the corner, stocked with a variety of buttons and even a remote control. Yes it was a full body massage chair, the first I'd ever seen! I gingerly encased myself into the device, it was a basically an Easy Boy, but the arm rests and leg rests actually came up and around your limbs. Not quite sure if it was a wise idea, I dropped in a 100 Yen coin and waited for the worst. The machine started vibrating, and the leather warmed up to a pleasant temperature. Before I knew it, the arm and leg rests closed on me and I was simultaneously getting a back, neck, arm, and leg rub. Yeeeaaaahhh..... My little 100 Yen coin got me a full 30 minute massage, not bad at all. After that, I knew I had to try the foot machine. I put my feet into the device and watched them disappear. When I dropped in the coin, suddenly the thing squeezed onto my feet from all sides and started hammering. I jumped and howled but was trapped, much to the amusement of the attendants. Apparently the machine was sized to Japanese feet. I found with a little adjustment the machine would merely squeeze all the blood out of my feet instead of removing flesh. The torture was relentless, the vibrations went all the way up my legs and jiggled my butt. I sat back and tried to find my happy place.