Japan Journal 3: Beauty at Hakone

Mono no Aware
I think the thing that most demonstrated mono no aware was the really zen mood going on when we were all in the onsen at Hakone. Nudity there meant something completely different than even partial nudity in locker rooms back home. It was pure thing. We all collectively and silently agreed to not be ashamed and we just accepted ourselves, even if it was for just a little bit. The feeling lingered for a few hours, dissipating slowly as the night wore on, and this morning it was mostly memory that cast a shadow of that calm, accepting mood. I looked around at the other women in the group and wondered if they had had similar experiences, or maybe were more or less confident than they were before the onsen. Maybe the only way for the healing qualities of the onsen, mental and physical, to take effect is repeated exposure. It was a beautiful experience, and I am very grateful for it. It just make me think of people who see a therapist once and expect to be good to go after that, or convince themselves that they’re better after one visit. Recovery is not flipping a switch, it is reconstructing everything.

IMG_1758Mono no aware was also present in the nearly illusive Mount Fuji.


I saw less sabi at Hakone than I did at Asakusa, but I think in a way the older buildings and simply the layout of the mountain towns exhibited a sort of sabi. It was obvious that the roads were not originally built for two tour buses to pass side by side, even if they were (barely) able to manage it now. Teh roads were built for pedestrians and carts, and for a simpler way of living. The buildings that looked most in place were the ones made of old material and that had been shaped and covered by flora. The buildings that were most calming and that felt like home were the ones that the mountains had begun to reclaim.

IMG_1684It was so a part of the mountains I had trouble finding it.


When I walked from the changing area to the indoor pool area of the onsen, my immediate thought was how wrong basically every bit of conventional beauty in America is. In that room our womanhood was humble and still a thing to be celebrated for all of the forms it takes. It just surprised me how very flattering nudity was for all of us. Maybe it was the lighting, our mood, the water, whatever, but unadorned and shameless looked good on everyone.

IMG_1710Know what else is pretty wabi? This adorable flower.

Again to the onsen – clearly I like that part of our day in Hakone. What was most yugen to me was not knowing exactly how the chemicals in the water worked. I actually really liked it. I understand that knowing about the effects each onsen has on the body is helpful to further medical treatments, natural or synthetic, but for me understanding all the details would have ruined part of the magic of it. To me, magic is anything I don’t understand. It doesn’t mean that a process is without logic, it’s just that I don’t have all the pieces. And coming to understand something new doesn’t mean that the magic is gone, which I think is a little cynical, it means that now you’re in on the secret – you know magic in someone else’s eyes.

IMG_1669He’s probably got the onsen magic.

The ritual preceding the onsen, and our day up to the onsen is a great example of kire. I like that we saw what a natural hot spring looked like before we went in the onsen because it made me appreciate the lengths people went to in order for people to have such an all around healing experience there. It would have been outright dangerous to try and sit in one of those natural hot springs, what with the heat, sulfuric steam, and pointy rocks. The only way for the hot spring to do some good for other people was to be tamed, taken from its original state and sculpted for a new purpose. In the opposite way, the only way for us to achieve the kind of atmosphere we did in the onsen was to abandon our cultural markers and acknowledge our collective humanity. The onsen, shaped from its wild origins, facilitates a ritual  that helps the onsen occupants return to their peaceful ones.

IMG_1664This is much less inviting than a pool.
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