While the All Blacks have been sweating it out on their training pitch in Beppu, on Japan's southern island of Kyushu, in preparation for their World Cup match against Canada in nearby Oita on Wednesday and their other games to come, this Herald reporter tasked with following them has also gone above and beyond in terms of heat-related activities.
This area is famous for its onsen, or natural hot bathing springs, and they have great cultural significance for their traditional, relaxing and healing qualities. Etiquette must be followed and, as always here, restraint and decorum is of the utmost importance.
Most onsen are enjoyed without bathing costumes and it was at one of these that I found myself recently in the interests of embracing all that Japan and the World Cup has to offer. The local mall has a foot spa available to all, but it was time to go to the next level.
Our hotel – far more spacious than our previous one in Tokyo – but far busier too and attractive to tour groups from far and wide, has separate onsen for men and women, and they are extremely popular. They are also open until 1am.
First, the rules, and it's in reading these in the knowledge that you will soon be wandering around naked and on a potential cultural faux pas knife edge that the anxiety builds.
Wear a robe (provided in room), disrobe and put belongings in onsen locker, wash yourself with a flannel and soap thoroughly while sitting on a stool before getting into water (to stand and wash may be to splash others), no swimsuits, do not put flannel or towel in water (flannel can put on top of head while in bath), do not swim or talk loudly while in the bath (and no food or drink obviously) and rinse yourself off again before re-entering changing room.
Tasks done in all the right order and without a significant issue (as far as I was concerned anyway), it was time to soak – first in the outdoor pool, with eight (Japanese lucky number) lamps along one wall and then in the indoor one.
The geothermal water – think Rotorua or, in the South Island, Hanmer Springs – was warm bordering on hot. The latter certainly applied to the indoor pool.
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Ideal at 11pm just before bed?
I was sweating like an All Black afterwards from the heat and humidity and I instinctively felt my blood pressure rising significantly too.
Sleep didn't come in a hurry. But it was for all the right reasons – immersion rather than embarrassment.
World Cup pressure embraced and another box ticked. It's back to Tokyo next.
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