experience - Spa World, Osaka
Written by Rob Goss
Onsen(hot spring) bathing goes back thousands of years in Japan, with accounts of it appearing in the country’s earliest historical records. But despite it being an enduring tradition, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun tinkering with it.
Nowhere has this tinkering been performed with such aplomb as at Spa World in Osaka, a theme park that combines traditional Japanese onsen with baths and spa treatments from around the world.
The bathing area is split into two zones, each home to more than half a dozen gender-separated public baths. In the Asian Zone, you can soak in a hamam, a traditional Turkish bath modelled on the inner courtyard of a mosque, or try bathing areas designed around Persian and Balinese themes. There are also several traditional Japanese onsen, two of which, in the best local bathing tradition, are set outdoors in calming natural surrounds.
The European Zone is just as varied. You could start with a dip in the Ancient Rome bath, a large Roman-style bathhouse inspired by the Trevi Fountain, then try baths inspired by the Parthenon, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Blue Grotto off the coast of Capri. The most eye-catching of the lot – Atlantis – is designed to transport you to the mythical city after which it is named. It cleverly creates an underwater sensation by positioning tanks full of tropical fish, and small sharks directly underneath the bath.
Not that Spa World limits itself to bathing. You can get a good sweat on at one of the complex’s saunas, or make use of the well-equipped gym. For even more pampering, visit the Esthetic Salon for a Japanese, Thai, Chinese, or Swedish-style massage, or perhaps even a total-body mudpack at the Mud Spa. The bentonite mud used penetrates skin pores to treat and prevent a host of skin conditions, including pimples, rough skin, blemishes, lines, and wrinkles.
And if you are travelling with kids who might not appreciate the art of relaxation, no need to worry. There is a pool with aquatic playground equipment (‘like a jungle gym in the pool’, is how Spa World puts it), and water slides, the longest of which twists and turns over 100 metres. Add to that plenty of places to grab a meal or a sweet snack, and Spa World has all the bases covered.
Immersing yourself in hot, soothing water doesn’t just feel good; apparently it can do you good, too. And that goes beyond the stress-relieving effects of a long soak. The rich and varied mineral content of Japan’s 2,300 natural onsen sources is absorbed into the body as one soaks. According to Spa World, they are said to be able to cure or relieve the symptoms of all manner of ailments, which range from neuralgia, muscle pain, and arthritis to bruises, sprains, chronic gastrointestinal inflammation, and even haemorrhoids.