Urban onsen reels in new visitors

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The Independent Online

The Japanese are famously fond of "onsen," or hot spring baths, so it was a relief to residents of Tokyo when the first urban onsen opened in the Odaiba waterfront district.

Oedo-Onsen Monogatari is unique in that it is the only urban onsen in Tokyo and also in that it is the only onsen in the country that takes the form of a theme park - another favorite attraction amongst the Japanese. The center has started a winter campaign that runs until the end of February and has cut one-third off the entrance price.

According to the operator, the campaign has led to a 20 percent increase in the number of visitors and the onsen is having the best winter season since its opening year back in 2003.

The interior of the complex has been designed in a traditional Japanese style, with old-fashioned shops and restaurants clustered along a main street. Visitors can try their hand at traditional games that are usually found in the grounds of temples during festivals, including archery and scooping up goldfish from a tub. The shops sell "yukata" summer kimonos, "geta" wooden sandals and purses made of kimono cloth.

The main attraction, however, are the hot springs. The water used in the baths, which are separate for men and women, is pumped up piping hot from 1,400 meters below the surface. Each area has a washing section and a series of different pools, including some outside and beneath a wooden pagoda. Stones have been set around the baths to resemble a traditional Japanese garden. Tendrils of steam coil off the water.

The women's side of the onsen has "okeburo," which are individual barrels filled with steaming water, while there are also a range of massages and saunas available. The "sunaburo" sand baths are popular with female visitors, who lay down in their "yukata" and are covered with hot sand. A large communal garden has another series of pools dotted about, some containing added herbal balms and one where fish nibble the skin from bathers' feet.

Sushi, soba, ramen and other Japanese meals are served in the restaurants, ideal after working up an appetite in the onsen. And for those who wish to stay longer, rooms can be reserved and the baths are available throughout the night.

Oedo-Onsen Monogatari

Address: 2-57 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0064.

Getting there: Take the Yurikamome Line from Shimbashi Station to the Telecom Centre Station. Oedo-Onsen Monogatari is a two-minute walk from the station.

Tel: 0081 3 5500 1125.

Entrance fees: The winter campaign runs until February 28, with entrance Y1,900 (€15) for an adult and Y900 (€7) for a child between the ages of 4 and 11. From March 1, prices revert to Y2,900 (€23) for anyone over the age of 12 and Y1,600 (€13) for a child. Certain treatments, including the stone spa and sand bath, require an extra charge.

More details: www.ooedoonsen.jp