The Onsen Experience in Japan

Heat stress on body is known to extend life, endurance and stimulate body repair. 

My grandpa is now over ninety years old. He wakes up at 4-ish everyday, does his usual thing in the bathroom, washes, prays to his favorite Shiva and then does a bit of meditation. He has his usual breakfast at 8am, lunch at 11, tea/snack break at 3pm and dinner at 7. He walks everywhere he goes. He sleeps whenever he can. He used to have the odd rum and coke once in a while but I hear he's done with that. Mo:Mos? nah, he's still bat-shit crazy about it. He still makes his grandsons drive him to the nearest Mo:Mo bhattis. 

And he has been doing the same thing for the past 50 years.

A lot of people seem to discount the fact that who we are, what we do on a daily basis, forms the foundation for our health. If you think about it, not brushing a day won't make much difference to your oral hygiene. Likewise, going to the gym for a single day doesn't make any difference either. But do that over and over again for a month, and the results start being visible, tangible. 

Now extrapolate that to a year, two years, three, decade and so on. Whats my point? well what you do on a daily basis - your daily habits- is what you are and sets the tone of your existence on this planet. The idea of eternity, the idea of good health, the idea of longevity all but starts with a single day, in a single hour, in a single minute, and...with a single action. 

Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world. So what are they doing right?

Perhaps that brings me closer to the actual topic of the blog. People have been trying to wreck their brains on why Japanese live longer. Why there's an aging but able population. Why the hell do Japanese live so long. As someone who's had the chance to observe for a year or so, the answer is very obvious.

A lot of things. 

First stop, external, environmental induced stress level is pretty darn low. The police have absolutely nothing to do, the whole country is OCD when it comes to cleanliness and everyone tries extremely hard to fit in, that also means they avoid conflict like oil is to water. Japanese also have a tendency of not to overeat. Nepalese have tendency to eat like there's no tomorrow. The portions are humongous and I am always left aghast at looking at all my relatives, dad and mom and all my other million family members eat their meals. Japanese have smaller, initially very disappointing, portions. They seem to eat just enough. 

There's also a long list of so-and-so to why-and-why of longevity but I won't touch on them now.

What I really want to touch on though, is this particular habit that perhaps was near to non-existent in Nepal; the habit of going to the onsen. Onsen is the local term used to describe hot spring and locals, from a very young age, have had a routine of going to the local spa/sauna/spring every week. Fathers take their sons and daughters. Friends go with their close friends. It's like any hangout places but with super hot water and literally no clothes on. 

I cannot imagine going with my dad to an Onsen. Although, now that I think about it, might have to do it in the near future. You know what, no, that's not going to happen. 

Back to my point. 

Dr. Rhonda Patrick is someone I have been following since she appeared in Tim Ferris Show podcast. The PhD. scholar interviews the top people in psychiatry, health, nutrition, fasting, longevity and so on, cross checks with volumes and volumes of papers and books on the topic and like Tim, distills what we need to know so that we can apply that to our daily lives. Her discussion on Onsen is worth reading/listening and I have a link [HERE] if you are interested. Her point basically is that heat and cold stress exposure, like that once you get by going to a sauna, can extend life, improve recovery, bump up endurance, help form new neurons in brains, induce fake fever and activate anti-bodies and so on. I think it's worth every bit of time. 

Since it was abundantly clear to me that going to the Onsen has to be part of my routine, I have basically taken a membership to a local hot spring place and make it a point to go there every week. So here's my documented experience of Japanese sauna. 

Naked Men
I was well aware of that I to had cross this line anyways. I had, in some measure, done that in Korea. All I had to do now was to do it routinely. This is perhaps the only one time I am very glad that I am very short sighted and everything blurs out the moment I take my glasses off. Censorship at it's best. 

This one time, after what was two or three outings to the onsen, I made my way as usual to the changing room. For some reason, I was desperately thirsty and was looking at the vending machine which was located at the interior half of the room's entrance. I was minding my own business, trying to very hard to select what was a myriad of local drinks, when I noticed something. I noticed that some people where staring at me from the corner of my own eyes. I looked around and to my horror, I saw four completely naked women all with their mouths open. 

I had entered the wrong chamber. omg. 

I must have bowed at least a million times from the changing room entrance back to the lobby. You should have seen the face of the staff when I appeared from the women's section. I nonchalantly pointed at the men's section, she nodded vigorously and I made my way into that room as if nothing happened. 

Little did I know that they switched rooms every now and then because the architecture of the saunas were different. In my defense, I have now learned that blue is for men and red for women. Wait.... is it?

First Conversation
When my male Japanese friends ask me to go to sauna with them, I say that they can go to hell. Onsen, for me, is only for me and for me only. I talk to myself (which actually sounds horribly lonesome), I think about about all sort of things in my head (you will be surprised how talkative it can be) and I mind my own f**king business. I am not there to chitty chat. 

This one time, after heading to the "salt spa" section, I heard a voice. The voice was in english. "Hey" someone said from somewhere. I said "Me?", it was just way to foggy and blurry for me to see any face. "Yeah" he said. He asked me all sorts of questions and we actually got along quite well. He showed how to use the onsen properly (all this time, I hadn't). Also bought me a towel, because, well in Japan, unlike Korea, don't provide you with one. I thanked him. We had a great time. I could see why you can go there with friends. 

The Smuggle
If you are still reading at this point, you must have clearly seen my distaste in going to the sauna with my friends. And if you there just lying down for two or three hours, it can get incredibly boring at times. Not that I don't like to do anything. I love it. I love doing nothing. But, you know, I feel that I could be doing onsen and doing something at the same time. 

Like drinking beer. or reading a book. 

And so I got myself a bigger towel, wrapped a book around it and went to a segregated corner of the facility, and started reading. I think it's THE best place to read a book. Not the coffee shop, or pub or the library or the office. It's the sauna.

This one time, I was reading the autobiography of Richard Feynman in one of the tubs outside (they have this garden where you can dip in pools). He had this chapter about how he made ants not go to his jam by rerouting the ant's trail to a small but significant supply of sugar in his room. Just then, I realized there was this ant going around my body. Because the context matched, I was busy looking at what the ant would do. So busy that I didn't realize that my other hand was involuntarily dipping inside the water. 

That hand was holding the book. I wish books were water-proof. 

The staff soon got a anonymous tip and they came straight at me saying that "I can't read here." I said Ok, and pretended to be the "i-dont-know-the-rules" foreigner. I love playing dumb. I can't do it now because there's no new staff to do role-play.

There's more stories but I am hungry and I need to eat something. Check you out later.


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