Japan is clearly viewed as a nation of hardworking people. The “play hard” view of Japan is less well known, and the “relax hard” view is even more hidden. This side of Japan can be found in the onsen, saunas and sentō where Japanese spend hours during off-days; the rest rooms floored with tatami where they drink jars of coffee-flavored milk and smoke cigarettes afterwards; and the restaurants they then retreat to for beer and eats.
This isn’t true of all Japanese, of course. I’d say this applies mostly to older people who live slightly outside of the major metropoli. But even younger people and those who live in cities take their hygiene and relaxation seriously.
While most people stick to their local onsen and sentō, higher quality springs and scenery draw people on 日帰り(ひがえり)温泉 trips. Break it down and it’s a ghost of a trip – you’re traveling long distances to do very little other than have a bath. However once you’ve done a couple and become accustomed to the whole group bathing phenomenon, they’re hard to live without.
Travel agencies offer package sets that generally include round-trip train fare, lunch, and entrance price for one of the baths. These can run anywhere from 5000 – 9000 yen. Not a bad deal, but using a Seishun 18 Kippu will cover your train fare for five separate trips for 11,500 yen. Read more about the ticket here.
Here’s one example of a trip out to 長寿館 in 法師温泉 – one of the least accessible onsen ever made: