Hot spring takeout
Mar. 8, 2018
For many Japanese people, a quick trip to the hot springs is the ideal vacation. But busy work schedules make this difficult. One town is letting you bring the onsen back home.
Yabuki-machi in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, is known for its hot springs. It's part of life and residents often go to the public onsen.
But you can also get hot spring water to go.
A vending machine called the "hot spring station" lets you fill up with hot spring water.
Municipal officials set up the system nearly two decades ago to help keep the townspeople healthy.
People come to fill up tanks of all sizes. The alkaline spring water is said to be good for the skin.
"A regular bath will warm you, but you'll cool off quickly," says a customer. "With the hot spring, your body stays warm longer."
A hundred liters of hot spring water costs less than a dollar; people can fill their bathtubs for less than 2 dollars.
Kyoko Mizoi has used the vending machine for years. She lives just a 5 minute drive away.
She takes the water to the home of an elderly relative who lives alone.
"This is great," says the relative. "I can now take a hot spring bath at home."
"OK. Take a good, long bath," Kyoko tells her. "Make your skin smooth and beautiful and live long."
She'll head home after getting another tankful. This is her daily routine: sharing hot spring water with family members.
Her husband, Takashi, runs a small metal-processing plant and is on his feet all day. He comes home at night, chilled to the bone.
"Your bath is ready," Kyoko calls out to him.
"It's such a hassle to trek over to the hot spring," Takashi says. "It's great that I can do this at home. This is a good way to wrap up the day."
Kyoko says bringing the hot spring water to relatives is a source of great joy.
"I am happy to see him clean and refreshed," she says. "The hot spring relaxes people and warms their hearts. That's the way our hot spring is."
Katsuhisa Saito has set up his own little paradise, an outdoor bath. He's gone to incredible lengths to enjoy the soothing waters.
He and his friends built the bath with a Japanese cypress. The tree's calming scent is still present.
"I love taking a bath and I am thinking of inviting my friends over," he says.
He organizes get-togethers once a month.
It takes 1200 kiloliters of hot spring water to fill the bath. That much water requires many trips to the vending machine.
He adjusts the temperature with fire. He spares no effort to prepare the bath. But in the end, his friends appreciate all the work.
"Taking a bath like this cleanses the body and spirit," says one of the friends. "Nothing feels better."
"This is the ultimate luxury," says another. "It's the most wonderful thing that can happen to us."
"I'm so happy. We love this. We will do this until the day we die. We all care for each other," Saito says. "No way this is coming to an end."
The hot spring station offers much more than just water. It's a chance for townspeople to share warm feelings together.