The Study Abroad Newsletter

Japan Here I Come

Allena Ikehara
Hokkaido University, Japan

I can remember the day as if it was yesterday, August 12, 2010 I boarded a plane for Japan. For me it was like a dream, I never thought that I would be able to have the chance to travel to a foreign country; Japan always seemed like a far away place people would talk about. But here I was, going to this far away land. I wouldn’t have been able to experience everything I did without the help of scholarships and I was fortunate enough to receive the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship; with this incredible amount, I was able to follow my dream.

With my dad at Miyajima Island in Hiroshima

There was just one thing I was almost sure I wasn’t going to do when I went to Japan, it was going to an Onsen, a hot spring/public bath. The Onsen layouts can vary, but most of them have separate sections for, women and men. For me, the thought of it was just a little weird, I thought of it as a big hot pool with a bunch of naked strangers. Nearing the end of my stay, a group of my friends (both Japanese and international students) wanted to go to an Onsen one night. Half of me REALLY didn’t want to go but the other half was saying “I’m here in Japan, this is part of their culture. I’m leaving soon…and I can’t leave and never even try an Onsen…”, so I went. We all packed our little bags with towels, lotions etc., jumped on our bikes and began our 20min ride to the Onsen. We arrived around 10pm, we all went inside, put our things into the lockers and…undressed.

Outside Onsen

At first it was really weird, everyone tried to avoid eye contact. Once inside there were tiny booth type shower places with a little stool to sit on and a mirror in front of you. Here, you’re supposed to wash your body, shampoo etc. then after you’re clean, you enter the pool(s). After we all showered, we quickly got into the hot bath (everyone still avoiding eye contact). After a little while, it seemed everyone was a little more comfortable and relaxed (maybe it was the burning hot water). I always heard that Onsens were SO relaxing, I never thought that being naked with a bunch of people in hot springs could ever be relaxing, but I was wrong.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed myself (I think the other girls felt the same way) and I want to go back to one already! After getting over the initial shock of everyone being in their birthday suits together, at the same time, it was a relaxing fun night for all of us, and somehow I feel like we all bonded and became even closer. The time I spent in Japan is one I’ll never forget. I’ve made friends from all over the world and throughout this whole experience, I have learned so much about different cultures, lifestyles, values, and myself. I hope one day I’ll be able to return, see everyone again and once again, venture to an Onsen.

Allena and friends at Fukuoka University's School Festival