The Best $20 I’ve Spent In My Travels: Onsen ‘Hotel’

I was never fantastic at being independent as a young adult. You’d think I’d have thought a bit more about that before travelling to live and work in Japan for six months.  Despite studying the Japanese language at both high school and university, I still managed to get lost many a time during my stay there and do questionable things.  I was a bit ditzy really.  It’s not a wonderful trait to have when living in a foreign country, but luckily Japan is probably one of the safest in the world.  On my last day in the country, before I jetted off to Thailand to meet up and travel with some coworker friends, (who I had shared a building with in Ube), I experienced yet another a royal muck up.  As always, with a bit of positive thinking, a bloody good go at speaking Japanese, and probably a lot of luck – I muddled my way through it all.  


You see, I’d gone to Tokyo for my flight to Thailand and thought I could just hang out at the airport all night.  This was not allowed.  Being the seasoned traveller I was (insert raised eyebrows here), and living week-to-week on my part time teaching wage, I did not have much money to my name at all.  The other lovely thing about Japan is that you cannot get money out of an ATM after 9 pm.  It is one of the singularly most frustrating things about that country.  And I can say that because it’s like my second home and I love it to bits.  

Suffice to say, I had 20 000 yen in my wallet.  Don’t be fooled – that is about twenty dollars Australian, or a little less.  I tried to communicate as much to the airport staff.  They rang an onsen (or hot bath) nearby and directed me to where I could catch a bus to it.  They would be expecting me.  I had heard of this mythical, cheap onsen ‘hotel’ but had not known anyone who had actually used one.  With my cash in my hot little hand, I waited forever for the van that took me to the onsen .  When I finally arrived there I was so confused.  There was literally just the entry to the male and female bathing areas and the eating area. Where did people sleep?  It was about eleven thirty.  What was the deal here?  

Rather than stressing too much I decided to kill some time by actually using the onsen baths.  I figured that I may as well since I had paid for it.  After living in Japan for half a year, I was used to the custom of bathing naked with strangers in our local gym baths and another onsen I had visited with a friend in Matsuyama.  Due to the late hour there weren’t many people anyway, but I was well and truly over the embarrassment that Westerners may first feel in this situation.  

I came out feeling nice and clean.  I tried to order some chips from the kitchen but it appeared that it had closed – worst luck.  Just as I was almost giving up hope and thinking perhaps I had been duped, someone came around and plonked some bedding in the dining area and began to move the tables to the sides. Futons were set up with pillows and blankets, they dimmed the lights and turned on some peaceful, classical Japanese music.  There were only about three people who stayed the night, and despite my radar for murderers and rapists being set to high due to sharing a room with complete strangers, I convinced myself that this was a safe place and managed to have a very restful sleep.

It was definitely the most worthwhile twenty dollars I have ever spent travelling because goodness knows I would have been sleeping out on the street otherwise.  How did I get myself into these situations?!  Regardless of whether you are short on money or not, it certainly is interesting spending the night in an onsen, and quite peaceful.  It definitely would be a great option for backpackers if you’re trying to save some cash.


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