EXPERIENCE N OZ AWA ONSEN
It is quietest in April. It snows from Dec – Feb
There’s also something special about bathing at sunrise, watching dawn break on the horizon, and for the most romantic of bathers, nothing beats soaking away the cares of the world with a loved one at night beneath a canopy of stars.
Another popular area for bathers is Japan’s spa town of Nozawa Onsen. The town’s first spring is said to have been discovered by a bear as it soaked its hurt paw. The hunter who had injured it tracked the bear across the mountainside intending to finish the job, but realised that the waters must have healing properties and decided to let the bear live. There’s a wooden carving of a bear by the spring as a reminder of how it was found.
It’s a near-universal belief that bathing in hot springs is good: It improves hygiene, and the mineral-rich waters have health-giving properties. Studies from Korea have shown that bathers’ blood pressure decreases, the amount of lactic acid (which causes stiffness in the muscles) decreases, and in the long-term there may be a reduction in the percentage of body fat. The increase in body temperature can also help fight infection and possibly disease.
In Korea’s jjimjilbang (public bathhouses), the kiln-shaped saunas are frequently lined with powdered jade, salt, or other minerals. The combination of the hot water and these natural substances, which are significant in traditional Korean medicine, are believed to impart all manner of benefits, from the relief of hypertension to a reduction in chronic pain.
People were drawn to the pools to bathe and to pray, because they believed the mineral-rich – perhaps even sacred – water might heal their aches and pains WHEN WHERE
It’s not just traditional medicine practitioners who take the waters’ properties seriously. Western doctors have frequently built sanatoria around hot spring sites. In Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, hot spring water is used for the treatment of osteoarthritis and sports injuries, as the heat relaxes the muscles and reduces inflammation, increasing joint mobility and alleviating pain. Spring water with a high sulphur content might smell noxious, but it seems particularly effective in treating eczema and psoriasis, as it is mildly antiseptic, reduces redness and itching, and leaves the skin baby soft.
Finding new springs used to depend on local know-how, or hiking and looking for indicative changes in the environment, such as changes in flora or steam rising in the early morning. Modern spring hunters make use of maps to study fault lines, and thermal imaging cameras attached to drones help narrow their search area. On the ground, the water may not always be visible, so spring hunters drill test holes (similar to searching for oil and gas), then pump or pipe the hot water into a dip, which can be developed into a pool.
While the popularity of hot springs declined in the 20th century as homes began to be built with bathrooms inside, the last few years have seen a hot spring renaissance as bathers rediscover the pleasures and benefits of the baths. For many bathers, it’s the location of the spring which is important, not the infrastructure around it. In Taiwan, techsavvy hikers seek out hot springs in remote, often wild, destinations and share them on social media. Some bloggers meticulously map their searches on smartphones, recording
every aspect of the route, and then share images – often of dramatic geological features, or of themselves bathing in striking but secluded settings – on Instagram to capture the imagination of their followers, who can then repeat their routes. Some of these hot spring hunters are even celebrities in their own right.
There is concern that an increased awareness of wild springs’ whereabouts increases their risk of pollution: Local ecosystems can be vulnerable, and the addition of something as seemingly innocuous as soap to the water may upset the ph balance. The Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) takes a proactive approach to regulating waste water from commercial hot springs, and there is an increased interest in the ecological management of hot spring sites. A significant volume of research is being undertaken to identify the best means of conserving water and energy, reducing waste, and generating combined heat and power from the springs to ensure they are environmentally friendly.
The pleasures of Asia’s hot springs are many-fold. Whether you opt for a wild pool far from the road, or a luxurious spa hotel, you’re continuing a tradition that has been enjoyed since ancient times. agp
The pleasures of Asia’s hot springs are manyfold. Whether you opt for a wild pool far from the road, or a luxurious spa hotel, you’re continuing a tradition that has been enjoyed since ancient times