Imagine Walt Disney World as seen through the eyes of an animé artist, and you have an inkling of the fantastical sprawl that is Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari (literally, Tale of Grand Edo Hot Spring). This bathing theme park is located just 20 minutes from downtown Tokyo in the city's hypermodern Odaiba district, but is awash in nostalgia for the 19th century Edo period. Upon paying a $25 entry fee, visitors change into yukata, or cotton kimono-like bathrobes, and that's the most they'll be wearing for the remainder of their stay. Clothes and cell phones are left in a locker room; wallets are unnecessary, as all purchases made in the park are registered on an electronic wrist tag worn by each visitor and paid for upon departure.
Surrounding a pseudo village square are single-sex bathing areas boasting a huge array of indoor and outdoor baths, filled with natural spring water drawn from 1.4 km underground. Tubs come in all temperatures and sizesfrom wooden barrels for one to a gigantic tub that accommodates 100and some offer massage features (micronano-bubble-jet bath, anyone?). There's a mixed-sex, outdoor footbath in an elaborate Japanese garden with a long stream of hot water in which to soak tired feet. Guests can also lie on heated "power stone" pebbles, or bury themselves in hot sand for a sauna-like effect. Other forms of non-naked refreshment and entertainment are provided in Edo-themed bars, restaurants and souvenir shops, and at stalls reminiscent of a village fair with traditional dart games and fortune telling.
After a few rounds of shuttling between pub and tub, one almost forgets that the cherry blossoms are made of vinyl, that the festive drumming coming out of the speakers is on an endless loop, and that one has just paid $5 for a tiny paper cup of beer. Only at the cash register, clothed and with wallet in hand, are guests abruptly awakened from their steam- and sake-soaked dreams and returned to the brutal realities of 21st century Tokyo.
by Toko Sekiguchi
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