Sunday, July 1, 2012

Japanese Onsens ( Hot Springs) and Pesticides

Japanese Insecticide Next to the Bath
Pesticides in hot spring water are as acceptable as pesticides in my house bath. Your skin is your largest bodily organ, and it is also permeable.Thus, it helps your body to absorb beneficial minerals from hot spring waters. On the other hand, deleterious substances also pass through the skin barrier. 

Which would you prefer to have around the water that you bathe in, fly swatters or  pesticides?

This is a question that comes to mind as I reflect on today's Japanese hot spring experience at Shiroyama Hot Spring. The rainy season has officially ended, the heat and humidity within Japan are rising, and the Japanese horseflies, called abu (アブ) are hatching and searching for blood. Horseflies breed in wet environments, such as along mountain streams and rivers, idyllic locations for hot springs. Of course, they will visit hot springs and may want to take a few nips from bathers. So it is quite natural that hot spring owners will try to eradicate them. 

Do you see the pesticide can?
As Hamlet probably would have said if Shakespeare had been a hot spring lover in Japan,  "To use pesticides, or not to use pesticides--that is the question."  My answer is a resounding No! If you didn't hear me, I will say it again. "No!"

As readers may have inferred, I do not want to bathe in a hot spring with pesticides, so I was not a happy bather when I saw a spray can of pesticides "conveniently" attached by a string to a post on the rim of the outdoor bath (露天風呂) that I had been appreciating just milliseconds before spotting the offending substance. The can was obviously there for the "convenience" of bathers who could grab it and shoot the spray at the irritating horseflies. 

Many years ago, I was in a similar outdoor bath in a natural environment, which included horseflies. The owners of this spring had chosen to leave flyswatters, not spray cans, near the bath.  When necessary we bathers would simply swat at them. Strangers laughed at our misses and warned us of horseflies diving in for revenge from behind. 


I learned some pretty stupid Japanese puns about horseflies at this hot spring. Horseflies are called abu in Japanese. Danger is translated into Japanese as abunai. In the Japanese language nai  is a morpheme used for negation. Greasy food is aburapoi. How do Japanese horseflies taste? Aburapoi. Why is it dangerous when you cannot see Japanese horseflies around you? Abunai wa abunai.

Polluted Outdoor Bath
If you want to learn more about Japanese horseflies, click to read a very academic paper about horseflies in Hokkaido. To learn more about your skin and health, read a website created by the Center for Disease Control. We should always remember that numerous alternatives to pesticides exist. Some options are making the surrounding environment more attractive for birds and bats that eat the insects we dislike. We can also create flytraps from environmentally friendly substances.