After a few busy weekends away, I decided to visit Niwa no yu, one of the local onsens in Tokyo. Niwa no yu is located in Toshimaen, which is a popular destination for the Toshimaen theme park that had its hey day while I was a child back in the 70s and 80s, prior to the advent of Tokyo Disneyland. I was soon to discover that Niwa no Yu was a a little bit like an onsen theme park resulting in a few twists and new experiences for me.
Upon arrival, I could feel straight away that the centre was a little large for my liking and there were line up areas to check in, so it was very much like I was lining up to enter a theme park, and a feeling of being processed. The entrance fee of 2310 yen was quite expensive, but included the extras of towels and “room wear” to relax in if you you wanted to settle in for the day. I actually prefer a yukata, but they only supplied a more western style unicolour top and bottom – not so glamourous! There is a reduced fee of 1295 yen if you enter after 6pm. For an additional fee there is also the ganbanyoku (hot stone “bed”) and massage services. Note that children under Junior High School age are not permitted .
Segregated vs mixed bathing options
My first port of call was to try out the regular indoor onsen and the outdoor bath in the segregated bath area. This was a pretty normal experience, but the outdoor bath area was relateively small compared to what I was anticipating, so I decided it was time to try the large outdoor onsen area that was set up for both men and women to enjoy together. Unlike my experience in Shimoda, this mixed bathing onsen area required everyone to wear a bathing suit!
Bathing Suit vs Birthday Suit – the ironies of self body image
Wearing a bathing suit in an onsen is almost sacrilidge for me! I was not looking forward to it at all, but in the interests of research I donned my bathers and headed toward the middle door (no key needed like last time!). Before I got to the door, there was a mirror, and for the first time ever at an onsen, I found myself self conscious about my body, and wanted to make sure I looked OK before entering the mixed bathing area. Oviously it is easy to be more self conscious in the mixed bathing area, but the irony of suddenly feeling self conscious in an onsen was a first for me.
Entering the mixed bathing area, was like moving into a large aquatics centre – only all of the “pools” contained onsen water! There was a very large circular indoor onsen with various massage spa jets for different parts of the body, and even acqua aerobics classes every half hour! There was even a large crystal at the centre of the onsen. The one thing you couldn’t do was swim though!
Beyond the large glass windows were two outdoor onsen with different types of onsen water. They were very much like oversized jacuzzis with much higher quality water. I even got chatted up by a young Indian IT intern having his first onsen experience – another first onsen experience!
Niwa is the Japanese word for garden, therefore Niwa no yu means the the garden onsen. Indeed, there was an extensive garden area for walking through after the onsen which was very relaxing and soothing as a retreat after the bustle of the mixed bathing area.
Overall, good research to expand my reportoire of onsen experiences but not really my scene. Too many people and a little too much like an acquatic centre. Recommended for those who want to have an onsen and are too shy to strip off or wanting to enjoy time in mixed company. There are also dining and relaxation areas upstairs – best to make a day of it and plan to join some acqua classes to get the best value for your money. Night time could be quite beautiful in the garden setting.
From Shinjuku, take the Toei Subway Oedo Line direct to Toshimaen station (21 minutes). Niwa no yu is only a 2 minute walk from the station – very easy to find right next to the amusement park. (Discount packages offered if you want to go on a joy ride or two before or after your bath!)