Saturday, March 14, 2009

laqua and the joint birthday celebration

Few days just before my actual birthday, some of us went to LaQua to celebrate. It was to be a joint celebration with Andreas and Prad as coincidentally, their birthdays were on the same day. Unfortunately Prad couldn't make it, but Karens & Kan managed to.

It was my first time in an onsen in Tokyo. I had always missed the ones in Niigata as they offered scenic views, was only a drive away and much cheaper. Imagine soaking in an open air hotsprings from a hilltop overlooking the rice fields and village below. It gets more magical as evening draws near, and lights from the houses below glimmer in the dark, complementing the stars in the sky above.

One of the best experiences was my first, just a month after arriving in Niigata. Not only did they have pools of steaming hot water to soothe away the muscles, but there were also hot stones on the ground on which you can lay down on. Naturally in the less busy prefectures where land is not a scarcity, they can afford to have onsen's everywhere. In metropolitans such as Tokyo, it's up on the 6th floor of LaQua, which also offers a theme park and shopping complex.

So the hot stones in which we laid our backs on that chilly spring evening offered an unobstructed view of the sky. It was very awkward for me in the beginning but soon all worries (including that of your physical nakedness!) melt away under the hot stones. It would have been beautiful if it had been snowing.

I always look forward to an onsen which has a rotenburo section, which is in the open, not covered by walls and ceilings. Strangely, after coming out from the hot steams of the onsen, the body doesn't immediately freeze when walking out into the open. In the LaQua onsen, the air had a lingering whiff of cedar and natural minerals.

The fun part is when you get out from the pool, sit at the wooden benches by the side for a few minutes, and then go back in again. Repeat many times and get the blood circulating. Imagine soaking in a hot tub of water, coming out to expose yourself to the winter air, then slowly going back into that hot tub again. That tingling feeling is a good sign that your blood is given a good onsen treatment.

Onsen is the ultimate Japanese experience that I would recommend everyone to go for. It's so much a part of the Japanese, no wonder they still look good despite the hectic lifestyle and krazy work culture.

But of course, back to my LaQua birthday celebration, we had a wonderful time together, naturally. Each of us had work worries on our minds, but the onsen is where they melt away. Too bad it was on a weekday, if not we would have had more IUJ friends joining us.

They say, onsen helps people to bond together. Not surprising, since there is nothing to hide. Or more like, there is nowhere to hide your physical beauty! The hot springs is where friends come together to catch up, colleagues unwind with their bosses, families come to have a relaxing time together. All is laid out in the open, young and old, big and small, coloured or not.

Anyways, back to my LaQua experience. For JPY2,500 it's a relatively decent price since you can literally stay there the whole day and indulge. There are other services in the 2 floors that LaQua occupies - aromatherapy, massage, aura soma, cafes, health checkup and restaurants.

To be realistic, nobody actually soaks in the onsen the whole day unless they want to achieve the skin consistency of a prune's. However, for an additional fee, you can sleep overnight at the lounge after a good soak, with a TV channel or magazine of your choice and wake up the next morning ready for work. There is also a special ladies-only room for those who seek privacy.

A trip to the onsen is often followed by a scrumptious healthy Japanese meal, afterwhich, the whole feel-good experience just makes it easier to have a good night's sleep. I was quite tempted to stay back at the lounge instead of taking the train home for fear that the feel-good experience would evaporate when I leave LaQua.

Such, my friends, is the healing properties of the Japanese onsen. :)

温泉 【おんせん】 (n) spa; hot spring; onsen;
露天風呂 【ろてんぶろ】 (n) open air bath; rotemburo

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