If there is any place to bare-all and take the onsen plunge (especially for the newbies), it is Sakura Onsen in Komagome. This spa and restaurant, gorgeous in every season, boasts reasonable prices, a clean and pretty facility, and other ideal conditions for public stripping, showering, and bathing. Honestly, I wouldn’t steer you wrong in this department. There’s too much at stake.
Just entering the onsen melts away tension. Spa music lures you in as you take off your shoes and carry them over to a wooden locker. Actually, it is the complimentary ride on Sakura’s very pink shuttle bus that first gets you in the mood. It is as if you are heading-off to summer camp or embarking on a field trip.
The Pepto Bismol pink bus lands you at both the Tokyo Swimming Center and Sakura Onsen.
Catch this bus at the front of Sugamo Station, on the main road, using this schedule:
Get to know this part of Sugamo as you wind your way to the onsen. When in the area, you can explore more using this guide.
Thank your driver as you step down. Now walk around the side of the building where the sakura and garden with pond, small waterfall, and view of restaurant sit.
There is the compulsary sign on the door. No tats, no babies still in diapers. No communicable skin diseases, please.
Checking in at the front desk:
Your onsen ticket costs 1,260 yen for any length of time, which could be all day, from 10 AM-11 PM, should you have such time at your disposal. Admission for children is 735 yen, for three year-olds up through elementary school age kids.
Extra/optional costs: A face towel (useful for walking to and from various baths or using to cover yourself if still a bit modest) is 170 yen.
Bath towel rental is 210 yen.
A soft dark brown kind of jinbei, or cropped pants and shirt (Kan-nai-gi) is 315 yen. This, to me, is most useful. If you can stay in what feels like “jammies”, while easing in and out of bathing, dining in the restaurant, and plain lazing in their relaxion rooms, think how much better that feels than if you were to change in and out of stiff jeans or whatever clothing you strolled in wearing. Extend that spa-feeling and go for the pjs.
Extra value: For a mere 200 yen for the year, your restaurant costs will be automatically discounted, as will all other services at the onsen, such as skin scrubs and visits to Sakura’s hair and beauty salons, home to wonderful aromatherapy massages for men and women. These may be some of Tokyo’s best prices for high-quality, private massage and skin-care services.
The restaurant menus include both the member-price, as well as the non-member price, so you can feel extra-glam when ordering. This is a hot card to have. If every item is 100 yen less for a member, your 200 yen fee for membership can be “worked off” after a juice, edamame order, or a frosty beer. This is your spa day–do it up! Remember, 200 yen covers the whole year!
Okay, no more stalling: At some point, you must do what we came here for–the baths. Women head to the red curtain; men duck inside the white curtain. If you are a foreigner like me, and perhaps the lone white girl in the locker room, remember that everyone is more mature than you. This is not your sixth grade p.e. locker room. Onsen is a beautiful part of the culture. There is nothing shameful, nothing embarrasing. We are all here to relax and enjoy the onsen. It does start with stripping…and working the little key you will wear around your wrist into a locker. Remember your cubby, as the number on your key does not match the locker number, whereas the shoes cubbies and keys do align. Get going. The fun is just around the corner where scrubbing and showering is also a treat. Grab that little blue scrubbing cloth and find a spot at the showers. You’ll feel like you are in your own private bubble in no time.
You may have heard: Baths in Japan are not for scrubbing; they are for soaking. Be serious about the sudsing and wash like you mean it. Like it’s the best feeling in the world. And it’s up there. You don’t want to be that person who messes up in this department. I probably have such a complex about wanting to be in “the know” that I out-shower and out-scrub everyone around me.
You also don’t want to space-out and wear the very tropical wooden geta outside of the toilet-area. Leave those little shoes on the floor before washing your hands or eek, stepping out of the bathroom altogether.
Also, be classy. Understand why no phones or cameras are permitted in private areas, hence, why I have only a few photos, none of which show the actual baths or facility.
Look to Sakura’s website for their enticing shots.
Now find your bath: At Sakura, you have fantastic options. Inside, choose from two baths, one of which is a fiercely bubbling bath with three spots to stand and receive a sports-massage from blasting jets, as well as three spots for sitting and receiving what is a rigorous water massage for circulation. Plus, a steam room, sauna, and an arctic plunge of a bath (no thank you–not ever) are available, as well as a hot stone massage/body work area.
Outside, in the fresh air, and under gorgeous wooden frames which let the sun in, you may soak in three different onsen. These outside baths may be my favorite, with two of the baths pouring out amber-colored water, full of minerals. Your skin both tightens and feels luminously soft. And to bathe outdoors with such tranquility? It is humanity in its finest. Everyone is clean, happy, and of course, relaxed.
Another outdoor bath is the silky bath, a concoction of milk and minerals which make it so you cannot see below an abyss of the mystery treatment that really does silken your skin.
Every bath clearly displays water temperature. Hop in and out of baths, back to the shower, rest in your brown lounge wear, and take-in a meal or snack in the restaurant.
But how clean is the facility? Every hour, attendants test the ph balance and other levels of water quality in each bath. Every month, Sakura utilizes an outside agency to test their water, for additional safety.
More on the restaurant: In an onsen-environment, the whole restaurant space feels light and at ease. You do not need your wallet or bag, as your meal or drinks will be charged to that number around your wrist. It is like being on a cruise. Everything feels taken care of. Time stops. Your money is not needed now.
Sakura’s restaurant runs lunch specials and fairs, such as their current ramen fair, featuring six varieties of ramen from 850 yen to 1,960 yen. An extravagant strawberry fair now runs until 3/25, featuring eight tantalizing ways to eat or drink your berry.
If you desire something simple and very inexpensive, order two omusubi (onigiri/rice balls) for 300 yen. There is a nice balance of vegetarian side dishes and entrees, as well as carpaccio, chicken, and meat dishes.
Some tables face the garden, with zabuton-cushions and sunken space for your legs. Other tables are completely situated on flat tatami, so that you are lounging on zabuton and your legs rest on tatami, no sunken room for feet. A sand and rock garden divides these tables from Western tables and chairs. Request a smoking or non-smoking section.
Drinking and bathing, a winning pair: Wine starts at 600 yen a glass, nama beer from 380 a glass. Choose from four kinds of beer, plus Ebisu by the tumbler or glass (650 yen or 440 yen, respectively). Get exotic with a mojito (classic or yuzu, 480 yen), or go traditional with sake or nihon shu. I’ve tried a nihon shu that was not to my liking and the restuarant staff was very helpful, sending it back, and suggesting a wonderful alternative.
Groups, dates, or on your own: Sakura could be a unique date, as you can spend together time lounging, drinking, and dining in between bathing. You can have that balance of “me” time and primp as little or much as you like (brushes, hair dryers, toothbrushes, razors, after shave, and facial products are freely available or sold in the powder room). Together, you can reserve one of Sakura’s beautiful tatami spaces with teapot on the second floor. This is a room with sheer bamboo screens separating each “room”. Sleep, read, or talk quietly in here.
You can use Sakura as a private day or time for rejuvenation City life can take its toll. For a busy, on-the-go Tokyoite, an onsen is like a day in the mountains. And we all need to get clean, anyway, right? As a working mom, simply blow-drying my hair at Sakura feels like a glam getaway.
Many groups of friends come here and they look like they have a ball. I am still at that intermediate stage–I’ve mostly been solo and that, for the record, is pretty comfortable for me.