EX­PE­RI­ENCE N OZ AWA ON­SEN

It is qui­etest in April. It snows from Dec – Feb

Asian Geographic - - Front Page -

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

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