TOKYO If your Japan-bound clients always wanted to visit one of the
country’s communal bathhouses, or onsens, as they’re called, now
may be their chance.
Finally, there’s an onsen that actually welcomes gaijin
(foreigners), has some English-speaking employees, is easy to get
to and is not located in the spa of one of the luxury hotels.
The Oedo Onsen Monogatari, which opened last year in Odaiba, the
new shopping and entertainment center built on reclaimed land in
Tokyo Bay, is a hot-springs theme park that recreates old Edo as
Tokyo was known in the 1800s at least as well as Disneyland’s
Jungle Cruise reconstructs the jungle.
Odaiba, on the waterfront at the east end of the Rainbow Bridge,
is a traveler’s and a tour operator’s dream. Two large hotels, the
Meridien Grand Pacific and the Hotel Nikko Tokyo, overlook the bay.
There are miles of up-market shopping, a park, the Little Hong Kong
Restaurant and Shopping Center, movie theaters, three museums, an
exhibition hall and a giant 378-foot-high Ferris wheel.
Since most of the Oedo Onsen’s customers are Tokyo residents,
the bathhouse has an authentic country feel. All the employees wear
Edo-period kimonos and, spread over several acres, there’s a
shopping street, food court, pub, sit-down restaurants, landscaped
gardens, massage rooms and, of course, the baths. Some of the
facilities are coed, but the baths themselves are separate.
Entrance fees and extra charges are paid to a central cashier when
visitors leave. The onsen takes credit cards.
Though clients can drop in for a couple of hours, the Oedo Onsen
is more fun if they make a day of it. We arrived in mid-morning and
were greeted by geisha girls with towering wigs, fancy kimonos and
sashes. After removing our shoes, a clerk issued locker keys and
identification passes used for buying gifts, food and massages.
From here, we stopped at the yukata counter to choose our summer
kimonos, offered in a dozen different ukiyoe prints, each one
depicting scenes from Edo’s famous geisha houses and nightlife.
These we put on in the locker rooms where we also locked up our
clothes, wallets and purses. Transformed into Edo-period denizens,
we stepped out onto Hirokouji Street to browse stalls selling
gifts, crafts and souvenirs and to eat lunch in the Happyaku Yacho
Dining Zone. Afterward, the men retired to their side of the baths,
and we went to ours.
In large public onsens like this one, visitors undress, grab
their washcloths and enter the pool area. Sitting on a low seat
facing a mirror and supplied with a hair dryer, soap and a bowl for
rinsing off, we scrubbed from head to toe. During the next two
hours, most of the women, who came with friends, moved from pool to
pool and indoors to outdoors, sampling them all.
At this onsen, the water comes from natural mineral springs in
rock layers as deep as 4,620 feet under Tokyo Bay. Each pool is a
different temperature, as indicated on a poolside thermometer. The
facilities are new and all is fresh smelling and scrupulously
If clients stay for the day, they should try the different pools
and schedule a massage. I tried the basic 45-minute back and lower
leg massage. These are given in a large coed massage room outfitted
with 20 tables. I was directed to keep my kimono on, but the
massage was marvelous anyway.
There are special foot massages, or visitors can massage their
own feet in the Yukata Oedo Bath Zone, a unisex outdoor garden with
stone-lined streams, stimulating footbaths and a sand footbath.
They can also lounge in the “210-mat tatami” room, measured by the
number of 34- by 64-inch bamboo reed mats it takes to fill the
room. After-bath “party rooms” hold six to 72 mats. Private rooms
are available for business travelers who want to entertain guests
at the onsen. So, the next time your business traveler clients
complain about Tokyo’s frenetic pace and pollution, or their
never-ending jet lag, tell them they’ve got two options. They can
chill at the minimalist onsen at The Four Seasons Tokyo, where
their bath mates will probably be speaking German, or they can take
a step back in time and try the Oedo Onsen Monogatari, for an
authentic bathhouse experience.
Onsen entrance fees are about $24 for adults and $13 for
children 4 and older. Massages are extra. To get there, take the
train from the Shimbashi Station and get off at Tokyo Teleport
Station. Or take a bus headed for Tokyo Big Sight.
The nearby Nikko Hotel is eight years old. It has 16 floors, a
fitness center, meeting and banquet rooms, restaurants and bars and
a business center.
The Meridien Hotel has 884 rooms, including suites. It has
restaurants, bars, a business center, parking, fitness center,
swimming pool and meeting rooms. www.lemeridien.com
Japan National Tourist Organization, Los Angeles