Edo Experience

This faux traditional Japanese bathhouse is user-friendly for first-timer visitors

By: Anne Z. Cooke

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 clean.

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.

The Details

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

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