Japan’s famous for its beautiful onsen (hot springs), although you might expect to find them on the mountainside or a tranquil little village – not in the middle of a big city. Well, Osaka likes to take you by surprise. One absolute must-visit place on your Osaka hit list should be SpaWorld in the Shinsekai district.
At first glance, SpaWorld might look a little tacky. It markets itself as somewhere you can find ‘onsen from around their world’ and their mascot is a cute little bear in a swimming cap, but it’s definitely not the big slip’n’slide water amusement park we were expecting. Natural hot spring water is pumped up from far below the earth’s surface, just like an actual onsen. There is an amusement pool for children, which is no doubt very loud and shouty, but we spent a good three hours in the spa facilities letting our worries and exhaustion melt away. It was definitely needed halfway through our Japan holiday, which involved a lot of walking and trains!
SpaWorld is essentially a huge bathing house split into European and Asian themed floors, which are rotated between genders each month. We were lucky enough to get the Asian themed floor, although I’m sure the European one is lovely too. The baths can only be enjoyed naked though so, once you’ve got over the first few moments hovering by the door trying to cover your modesty with the world’s smallest towel, just head in and join the throngs. You’ll soon forget you’re embarrassed because everyone else is just walking around naked – despite being the only Caucasian people in there, I don’t think anyone gave us a second glance.
Needless to say, you can’t take photos inside SpaWorld’s baths, so you’ll have to make do with an overview and photos from the website. The best section of the Asian floor was the Japanese outdoor bath, although the Islamic, Japanese all-cypress, Persian and Bali baths are all worth spending ample amounts of time in. There’s also a Dr Spa bath room, which pumps three baths full of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which I suppose must be good for you.
Price-wise, SpaWorld’s well worth the money. When you check in, you get a wrist band for either 3 hour use (between 2,400 yen Mon-Fri and 2,700 yen Sat-Sun) or full day use (2,700 or 3,000 yen). We clocked just over three hours – and weren’t in a rush to leave because we were so chilled out – and just had to pay the difference when we left. You can also buy very cheap drinks in the lounge area of the bath floors, which you also just add to the tab when you leave. If you do want to spend the whole day at SpaWorld, there’s also a sauna and gym to enjoy. There’s even a hotel on the premises, if you can’t bear to leave.
Admittedly, SpaWorld isn’t the easiest place to find (you won’t find many tourists there, that’s for sure). I relied purely on Oana’s map-reading talents and we saw a lot of Shinsekai, with its narrow crazy streets, on the way. The area is supposedly one of the rougher parts of Osaka, and amazingly this information was even on one of our guide maps, but we had a great time in the area and had some of the best okonomiyaki ever there.
In short, make sure you go to SpaWorld when you’re in Osaka! It’s a shame that this concept hasn’t come to Britain on quite the same scale (and if it did, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be anywhere near as cheap). There’s an idea for a Kickstarter campaign…