Confronting Solitude: Traveling Alone for the First Time
Going to Tokyo was never part of the plan. But when I booked flights to Vancouver, the cheapest one I found had a 22-hour layover in Tokyo. I bought that ticket and resolved to make the most out of those 22 hours. With such limited time, I needed to narrow down what I wanted to do. Since my flight arrived at Tokyo at 7:55 pm on August 1 and I was set to fly to Vancouver at 6:20 pm on August 2, I decided to spend the night in an onsen and to join a food tour from morning to lunch the next day.
The months, weeks, and days leading up to my trip were fraught with so much fear, anxiety, and chaos. I had to deal with my finals at school along with the demands of work. Since I was going to be on leave for two months, that meant there were so many things to iron out before my vacation started. I didn’t even have enough time to celebrate my college graduation and to process what it all meant. “There would be time for that later,” I told myself. “I’ll do that during my gap months.”
I was also caught off guard at how much time and money it took to get visas! The travel bloggers on Instagram made everything look so easy! I had to secure a visa to Japan, US, and Canada—even if I were to stay in Tokyo for 22 hours only.
I had so many questions. Will my visa get approved? Did I forget anything that would hinder me from graduation? Is my passport really at home? What if I spill coffee on it accidentally? Was I scammed when I bought plane tickets online? What if my debit and credit cards get skimmed? What if someone steals my wallet?
With school, work, and preparations for the trip all happening simultaneously, I felt like I was in a constant state of anxiety. Like I wasn’t in control of anything—just taking things one hour at a time.
On the morning of my flight, my dad drove me to the airport. The car ride took around an hour and a half. I waited for a few hours in the airport before boarding the plane. The plane ride took a couple of hours again. Once I arrived in Tokyo, I was met with a very quiet and calm airport. I took a train from the airport. The train ride took around an hour—maybe more. I must have been inside a vehicle–from a car to a plane to a train–for almost ten hours!
And I enjoyed those moments. Being in transit is one of my favorite parts of traveling. I look at the city lights. I look at the people. I look at signs in foreign languages. I look at the windows of tall skyscrapers and imagine each window as a television channel—with each window having its own storyline and own set of characters. Most of all, I enjoy seeing everything from a safe distance. While inside planes and trains and cars, I am shielded by the window and invisible to the passersby.
I had to transfer lines before getting to the onsen. But on my second transfer, I stepped out of the station instead of catching the next train. What stood before me was a busy crossing. I felt a rush of emotion, and I released a breath I didn’t know I was holding. That was the moment when the truth sank in. I felt the weight lifted off my shoulders. Yes, I did graduate from college. Yes, I was finally going on a vacation. Yes, my visas were approved. I didn’t miss my flight. I wasn’t robbed. Again and again, I was thinking, “I made it. I’m here. I’m okay. I’m happy.”
It was absolutely euphoric. I was overjoyed to spend time with myself–and to be invisible to the rest of the world.
After strolling around aimlessly and snapping some photos, I finally headed to my resting place for the night: Ooedo Onsen.
Confronting Nudity: My First Onsen Experience at Ooedo Onsen
I have such a weird concept of nudity. I remember as a child, I worried about being ill—not because of medical bills or death. But because I didn’t want to be naked in front of a doctor. I heard about other cultures (like Japan’s) having public baths. I was completely disgusted at the idea of being naked in front of a doctor, let alone other people in a public bath. But where was all this aversion coming from?
My views on nudity (and bodies, in general) are changing. I am learning the importance of context–and how context always makes the world of a difference. I feel uncomfortable when catcalled in a bright and busy street—even when fully clothed from head to toe. Ironically, I feel comfortable naked in a dim spa when I’m having a massage. There is no shame or malice inherent in the naked body. With my newfound view on nudity, I added going to an onsen in the list of things I wanted to do in Tokyo.
My food trip with Oishii Tokyo would start at around 6:30 am, which meant I had to choose where to spend my evening. I didn’t want to check into a hotel because check-in time is usually at 3 pm. I’d arrive at the hotel at around 9 or 10 pm and leave at around 5 am the next day–even if the check out time is usually at 12 noon. If I checked in a hotel, I’d be staying in the room for a fraction of what I’d be paying for. I wanted a place that was open even at midnight until the dawn, somewhere I can bathe, eat, and store my things while I sleep and rest. (I always feel extra grimy and dirty after a long flight.)
Oedo Onsen had everything I needed. It was also so much more affordable and fun than simply checking into a hotel!
This is what the entrance looked like.
The staff at the reception (on the left side of this photo) hands you a bracelet with a locker number, key, and a brown square that has a sensor.
The key opens the door to your own locker. The brown square with a sensor is used to record whatever expenses you may incur–for food, drinks, and massage or treatments. Payment is made upon checkout, so you don’t have to bring your wallet as you go around the onsen.
After getting the bracelet, you proceed to a counter where the staff hands you your own yukata. The yukata is provided for you to use with no extra charge.
For obvious reasons, photography is not allowed inside the changing room. But I really loved it, so it’s worth mentioning in this blog post. The changing room is spacious. There’s so much room for everyone, so it minimizes the awkwardness of changing in front of each other. Everything you can possibly need is also there–toilet, bath, sanitized brushes, tooth brush, lotion, soap, hair dryer, individual vanity mirrors, chairs, and other hair styling products.
I didn’t use them yet. I just changed into my yukata, and headed to the dining area.
The dining area was beautiful and quaint. The atmosphere was also very calm and family-friendly. I guess I always associated night life with loud parties and booze. This dining area was the complete opposite. I was surprised at how alive the place was, considering it was around 10:00 pm or 11:00 pm by the time I was taking these photos.
Some stalls were already closed, but I got what I needed the most: ramen and tea! There were water (and tea) stations situated all around the dining area.I got myself a shio ramen in one of the stalls.
After eating, I proceeded to the onsen area. Before entering the bathing area, there’s another changing room. There were lockers provided to leave your yukata and whatever items you still had. Again, photography in this area is not allowed. But like the first changing room I encountered, it was also complete with toiletries.
You can get a white palm-sized towel and a larger yellow towel, but you are not allowed to dump that towel inside the springs. You can also get a hair tie to keep your hair from getting into the water.
Once inside the bathing area, there are shower areas you can use to cleanse yourself before heading to the springs. There were shampoo, conditioner, and soap provided. (All liquid–no bar soaps. Yay! I cringe at the thought of reusing a stranger’s bar soap.)
It was so relaxing to soak my body in warm water. I was able to loosen up my muscles after the long flight. I also felt so much cleaner. There was an outdoor area, but it was closed at the time I visited, probably because it was already midnight by the time I visited.
Photo from http://daiba.ooedoonsen.jp/en/
Photo from http://daiba.ooedoonsen.jp/en/
After the relaxing and cleansing bathing experience, it was finally time to sleep. I went to a room with comfortable recliners. The blankets helped me feel warm and cozy.
The only downside to it was the snore of people around me, but it was nothing a pair of earphones couldn’t fix. I set an alarm to vibrate at 5:30 am. I didn’t want to set an audible alarm and wake up the people around me.
Photo from http://daiba.ooedoonsen.jp/en/
At 5:30 am, I woke up feeling clean, well-rested, and refreshed. I changed into my normal outfit, put on my makeup, returned my yukata, and checked out of the onsen. My total bill was a fraction of what I would have spent in a hotel. Going to an onsen was definitely a unique and relaxing experience.
Odaiba Tokyo Oedo-Onsen Monogatari
For the rates and the address, visit their website: http://daiba.ooedoonsen.jp/en/