Straight-up Momma: A Jar for One at the Japanese Spa

Hot springs and sushi, minus the monkeys

by Nicole Chia | Thu, May 11, 2017

There was a time in my life when I became absolutely obsessed with Japanese onsens (hot springs). Granted, I’m still completely obsessed with anything Japanese, but my love for onsens cooled off once I realized that my super shy “what do you mean someone has to see me naked?” husband was having none of it when I suggested he try one on our last trip to Japan.

Since then I have always daydreamed about the idea of sitting somewhere hot and steamy while checking out wild bathing monkeys and eating fresh sushi. But maybe not all at the same time; I’m betting people wouldn't appreciate me bringing my lunch into a hot spring, except maybe the monkeys who would likely fight me for it.

After I got a bit hooked on visiting the Korean bathhouse called New Star, and gushing about it to everyone I knew, someone gave me a tip that there was a Japanese bathhouse not too far from where I live. I immediately made plans to go that week – hot springs and sushi would finally be mine!

Gokurakuyu is located in a part of Jinqiao that simply no one really goes to. Once you’re past Hongfeng Lu it basically becomes a black hole for expats with people scratching their heads over the fact that anyone ventures beyond that point. I decided to check it out by myself, which was a bit of a scary experience considering I get stared at in the most normal of settings – at least when I’ve visited a bathhouse before I had a friend as a buffer. But this time I actually felt really exposed (this bathhouse also requires you to be nude) as I didn’t even have anyone to help me stare back at people or to laugh at me while I argued with the clothing lady. You actually get to pick your pj prints here, and the nicest prints are kept for VIP members. My point was that I would look way better in the VIP cherry blossoms on black background than the super pink kitty ones she was trying to give me.

Once inside and disrobed, I took my complimentary tiny face towel guaranteed to hide none of my shame, washed off and went directly for what looked like a giant soy sauce pot. Looking around I realized that this was a hot tub for one where I could stew in my own loveliness while surveying the land, with no one looking at me with my knees shoved up around my chin. Beauty before comfort! Besides getting a really good soak in, the best part was definitely trying to get back out of the pot while still trying to look a little graceful. My verdict on that: impossible.

I basically splashed/tripped my way out of that thing into a very ladylike sumo stance that saved me from landing directly on my butt.

All of the different tubs were awesome, but the strangest by far was the electric tub. It’s one where they pass a small electrical current through the water that is supposed to do something to your blood cells. I didn’t really know what was going on until I felt the first zap then screamed in confused protest while simultaneously jumping directly back out of the tub. If there’s one thing my lady bits don’t like, it's being zapped by a mysterious electrical current.

Rounding out my great spa day was, of course, sushi for lunch. Although I wasn't in Japan surrounded by natural hot springs and scary monkeys bathing nearby, it was close enough for now. Added bonus: no getting bitten by a wild monkey for being on their hot spring turf!