Another peculiar, Japanese, alcohol-related phenomenon is bathing in booze-scented novelty hot springs.
The Japanese almost universally love “onsen” (natural hot springs) and travel hours out of their way to submerge themselves in nature’s hot water. For me, the exhausting two-hour train ride outweighs the relaxing properties of the hot spring, but to say anything bad about onsens in Japan seems to be a major social faux pas. Although, I admit I can see the appeal of the “beer bath” in Hakone’s Yunessun Hot Spring Resort.
I have already been to Yunessun once and tried a red wine bath. They always seem to have unusual baths materializing for limited times. There was also a worryingly brown and stinky curry bath there too. And a tank for you to put your feet in, which was full of little “doctor fish” who nibble at your bunions and athlete’s foot.
To be frank, though, Yunessun is not a place I’d recommend. It had the atmosphere of a municipal swimming pool, complete with baby piss, the echoing screams of children, and the smell of bleach. The kind of place where you get warts on your feet.
I wandered into the proper, authentic men’s onsen area, and it was just full of wrinkly, hairy, old men, standing in line for hours, stark naked like in some degrading prison camp. They were waiting to squeeze into an onsen so crowded that the bathers were all squashed together like sardines in a tin. Gross! The whole room stank of ball sweat, as well.
That is my idea of hell, not a relaxing weekend treat. I said “no way!” and deserted the place, bought myself a newspaper and a can of beer and sat outside, under a tree, much to the later disappointment of my then girlfriend who was inside the ladies section, and was keen for me to sample some culture.
Now, had I been squeezing into an overcrowded women’s onsen I wouldn’t have been complaining!
While we’re on the subject, I have, in fact, been to a mixed, naked onsen in Izu. I had hoped it would be like a sexy Roman orgy, but it was actually full of gossiping old ladies hiding their modesty with towels. I, meanwhile, had mistakenly assumed that towels would not be allowed in there, and was wandering around naked as the day I was born, and mildly embarrassed.
Still, it was a more pleasant experience than the curry onsen.