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Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Bath in the Sky

Solitude and Clarity: a bath in the sky?

The sense of pure calmness has become more elusive as the years flow by. That emotion of pure peace where our thoughts become physical words that we can speak and share with ourselves and ourselves only. Where can we cleanse our mind, and where does this peace of isolation exist? It’s up in the skies…literally.

The idea of a Japanese Onsen (Hot Springs) brings confusion to a lot of people unaware of the culture. It is a public bath where facilities for showering are available as well as a variety of hot baths to suit different needs. High up on the prefectures of Gunma and Nagano in Japan, the Manza Onsen has been officially declared as the highest Onsen in the whole of Japan. The area attracts tourists mainly in the winter months due to its powder snow and ski slopes surrounding the area. Traditionally, the Onsen is used to relax and to cleanse the mind. 27 different origins of water enter the hot springs, and many have claimed that certain physical afflictions and problems get cured as a result. It’s a place of peace, solitude and quiet high up in the mountains.

I was fortunate enough to Journey to the Manza Onspring when I was only 15 years old. A school trip led us trekking up the mountains before finally resting at the Hot Springs to ease our aching bodies. The quaint and quietness of the area was what surprised me away from my home in Central Tokyo. The noise disappeared and the wind took over all the sounds around me. The place was miraculously clean and ready for use, and the owners were pleased to see travellers. We were treated as guests of honour with food and drinks all provided to us before and after our baths.

It may be off the beaten path, and high up in the sky. But could Manza Onsen be the place to bring solitude to our lives, and a sense of self back? It’s an experience I will never forget, and I hope to revisit soon.

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