Here's a fun story.
So one day in Kyoto, I decided to take the train and go 30 minutes outside the city to Kurama. I initially went because I had heard that it had onsen, and that was one of my goals. Even if it didn't, it was a mountain, and I wanted to hike.
When I arrived, the first thing I saw was a little shuttle that read "free bus to hot spring." I contemplated whether or not I wanted to explore the area first or to go ahead and bathe it up. I chose the former, which proved to be a wise decision.
I paid ¥500 to get into the big temple (which was up Mt. Kurama itself) and it more than paid for itself. Not only did I see some neat temples and shrines, but it included the entire mountain hike which is about 544m. I went all the way up and all the way down the other way, which took about two hours since I "stopped to smell the roses" quite frequently. I will tell you, I saw some pretty breathtaking things, including an interesting way Cedar Trees have rooted.
But long story short, I was tired as all hell by the end. It was also another 30 minute walk (plus one train stop) back to Kurama once I descended the mountain. Needless to say, by the time I got to Kurama I had accumulated more than my fair share of sweat. And it was a hot day. And I was wearing jeans. Do the math.
So I sprang for that free shuttle. And I accomplished one of my goals of the trip: I got to visit an onsen. I rented a towel and went right to it. I suppose it's not common for a gaijin to frequent an onsen. Or maybe it's because I didn't see foreigner one in Kurama (aside from the English and Irish duo I met on the way back to the town). [In fact, I didn't see too many youngsters in the area at all anyway, it was mostly old men and women. ]But my two bath-mates couldn't get past looking at me a lot. Mostly during pre-bath washup time. Not that I cared, I needed that bath dammit!!!
That aside, it was refreshing, relaxing, and boy did my feet love it most of all. By the end of the day my blisters had blisters. And the bath location itself was pretty damn good too. Had a nice view of the mountain. And also a nice view of that guy's back tat...t..oo...
Yeah, I'm prrrrretty sure I was in the company of yakuza. No, not with me in the outside bath, but the inside area. I could see the tattoo plain as day through the glass. And in the locker area, I was directly in the middle of two gentlemen with full-back tattoos as they were conversing. I didn't look them in the eye, NOR did I doublecheck to see if they were missing pinkies. But I'm fairly certain they were yakuza.
Despite the fact that I saw a lot of amazing landscapes and vegetation, that is probably the 'wackiest' thing I saw during my 10 day period.
On a side note, has anyone else ever been to an onsen? Every person I've talked to who's been to Japan hasn't 'taken the plunge.' Is it personal preference or not culturally acceptable? (I did see a few white guys in yukatas at the resort lounge while waiting outside for the bus to come back though so maybe the former?)