Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Holy Hot Spring

A hot spring is so much more than hot water or a great way to relax.  Bathing can be a way to learn about Japanese culture if you keep your eyes, your mind, and your skin pores open.  In Japan, many hot springs have spiritual connections. This is not so unusual: consider the significance of water in the rituals of Christianity and other religions.

Chousenji is the name of a small temple in Beppu, Oita, which is far off the tourist radar. It has a lovely little hot spring in its quiet garden.
As I walked up to the front of the temple, I was awed by the sight of a large number of statues of  Mizuko Jizo, guardians of aborted babies, miscarried babies, and babies still in the womb.  In front of those tiny statues were toys, possibly the favorite toys of deceased babies and toddlers, or toys that were bought for the babies who never survived to breathe our air.  

An old lady opened up the door to the temple and greeted us.  She noticed that we had walked into the temple grounds with our lunch bags, and she kindly suggested that we sit in the garden and eat before taking a bath.  We asked how much we should pay for the bath, and she said that it was up to us, any amount of money would be fine.  

After eating, my wife and I walked into the small room with the bath.  As I closed the door, another bather appeared and seeing that my wife and I were walking into the only bath, he wandered away. Hopefully, he returned later.   

The bath was immaculately clean.  A small Buddhist shrine was in one corner.  In the other corner, was the spout where the hot water poured out into a small square container before sliding into the tub.  A cup left near the spout indicated that the water was drinkable, and seeing that the water was freely flowing from the source, I felt comfortable drinking the mineral-rich water, which was slightly sulfurous. 

The worn wooden bath was just the right size for two people. We were intimately close, yet we could still stretch.

I left this hot spring feeling that I had found one more memorable spring to write about and feeling that I needed to learn more about Japanese culture and hot springs.

One of the most beautiful hot spring and shrine combinations is on Sakura Island.

Bathe with an open mind, open eyes and open skin pores!