Two boomer adventurers rock the Japanese inn experience

Active lifestyles? That is the theme of BoomerCafé and few boomers lead a more active lifestyle than adventure traveller Talek Nantes of New York City, who has traveled to more than a hundred countries. She has written for BoomerCafé about her most recent trip, where she says that she and her husband rocked the Japanese inn experience like pros. And she has some tips if you want to do it yourself.

While in Japan we visited a Japanese “ryokan onsen” or inn (ryokan) with thermal baths (onsen). We wanted to have the full traditional experience. The first thing we learned is that there is a very specific set of guidelines for enjoying an onsen, and you ignore them at your own risk. After a couple of tries we ended up enjoying the experience like we had been born into it.

Talek with her husband Kami.

THE JAPANESE RYOKAN ONSEN EXPERIENCE

1. Before going into the ryokan always take off your shoes. Wearing your shoes is not an option, nor is it okay to wear shoes sometimes or in certain parts of the ryokan.

2. Understand that the sleeping arrangements are on the floor. You will be provided with very comfortable sleeping supplies, but it’s still all on the floor and that’s all there is to it.

3. Pillows will generally be harder than what you are used to in the West. Don’t ask for different or fluffier pillows.

4. You will be provided with a yukatas, or Japanese robes, in your room. You can wear them at all times in the ryokan. You can wear your western clothes too, just don’t wear both at the same time or you will look silly.

5. The meals at a ryokan onsen will amaze you. They are perfectly designed tasty tidbits of perfection called kaiseki ryori and can include over 20 dishes and are almost considered a performance art.

Preparing a kaiseki ryori involves a tremendous amount of work, so the ryokan will ask you to be prompt to dinner and will bill you if you are a no-show. But do show! This is truly a unique and delightful experience you won’t want to miss.

THE CORRECT WAY TO ENJOY A RYOKAN ONSEN (thermal bath)

  • You go into a small bathing room first where you wash and rinse yourself before you go into the onsen. The onsen itself is meant only for relaxing and soaking. Don’t get in with a bar of soap and start scrubbing. You should be squeaky clean BEFORE you get into the onsen.
  • Throughout this process, you should be, yes, naked. Men and women have separate onsen. Don’t show up in a bathing suit or in your underwear. Everyone else is naked, so you would really stand out. Bathers are going about their business and nobody is paying attention to you. Do likewise.
  • Do not swim or splash. Just sit there and enjoy the soaking.
  • Don’t attempt to socialize. People expect quiet in an onsen and to be left to their own thoughts. Just pretend that others are not even there.
  • Don’t bring a camera in with you and start blatantly snapping photos. Attempting to do so surreptitiously is even worse.

A dining area at a Japanese inn.

The last piece of advice: enjoy yourself and absorb this beautiful culture, food, and atmosphere. A stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan onsen is an experience that will stay with you for a long time.

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Talek’s book is “Don’t just travel to Cuba, experience Cuba like a local: The Ultimate Cuba Travel Guide.”

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