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Sulfur hot springs

Owakudani hakone hot spring vents steam japan

Note that these images are not from Tamagawa, the place Booth describes below. Nor do I have any of the naked Akita bijins he mentions. 🙁 However, when I read the passage below I was reminded of these photographs that I took at Owakudani, near Hakone.

Owakudani river

Owakudani hot springs water

“Outside, in the hissing bed of the stream, metal pipes and a wooden trough stained bright yellow by the sulfur carried the hot spring water to the baths. The water is a bare two degrees below boiling when it comes out of the earth, and so the stream is practically invisible, shrouded day and night in billows of white vapor. The smell of the springs is overpowering, and in the huge wooden bathhouse where you grope your way to the pool of your choice through a permanent curtain of cloying steam, the stench is so heavy it chokes your throat till, after a while, you learn to breathe very gently and regularly as in a sauna.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Tamagawa is the fact that men and women bathe together. This was often so before ‘Westernization,’ and its survival here must be one of the reasons why the Japan Travel Bureau is so sniffy about ‘primitiveness.’ I found nothing primitive about it. I thought it a joy to lie and watch old women with breasts hanging down to their bellies giggling like schoolgirls while they scrubbed their husbands’ backs and eyed the one or two muscled young men who skipped self-consciously from pool to pool dangling hand towels in front of their crotches. The beauty of the Akita bijin does not appear to suffer much with age; the grandmothers’ faces were often as radiant as sixteen-year-olds’. The younger bijin stayed irritatingly out of sight–though, on reflection, that was probably just as well, since it enabled my enthusiasm for the primitive to continue at a cerebral level.”

(Alan Booth in The Roads to Sata p. 81-82)

One Response to “Sulfur hot springs”

  1. 1

    Forget the bathers. Just two degrees below boiling?! Yeow!
    Awesome photos though!