Onsen hot spring baths
For centuries the Japanese have harnessed the therapeutic powers of naturally occurring hot springs across the archipelago.
Even today communal bathing in hot spring baths is a huge part of Japanese culture; a way to connect with nature and one another, as it is said that friendships are best cemented in the steamy secrecy of an onsen.
Let's tackle the common onsen apprehension: yes, you will be as naked as the day you were born in front of other people (although men and women are segregated 99% of the time). OK, we admit it is a little bit weird at first, but you really do soon get used to it. In fact there is something very liberating about all ages, all shapes, sizes, classes and races naked together in a hot spring bath.
Hot spring baths come in different varieties from baths made of rocks and cypress wood, to tiny city sento bathhouses. Many onsen belong to ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) while others are public bathhouses. There are even gigantic onsen theme parks where you can while away a whole day in endless saunas, steam rooms, Jacuzzis and baths of salts and minerals, green tea and red wine (we kid you not).
The best baths are outside and nothing could be more relaxing than feeling the fresh air on your face, the mineral water on your skin while you soak up views of open skies, rivers and mountains. For many, onsen are the first thing you'll miss when you return home from Japan.