Finding the time and place to relax is proving to be one of life’s more difficult achievements, especially recently. With the constant dark cloud of COVID-19 looming over our heads, limitations put on travel, and the stress of adjusting to a life of working from home, it has become almost impossible to just let loose.

But fret no longer, as an onsen in west Japan has come up with an innovative solution to fit our needs.

The “Arima hot-spring baths VR tour” is a project initiated by one of Arima Onsen’s most popular hot-springs, Arima Sansoh Goshobessho, known for its ancient temple origins and zen-like atmosphere.

The project features footage, professionally produced from the hot-spring baths of five different inns within the Arima Onsen area. Each of the VR videos last between 15 - 20 minutes in length, giving the viewer plenty of time to kick back and relax in the comfort (and safety) of their own home bath.

Following the outbreak of the new coronavirus and the placement of a state of emergency across the country, almost all of the baths and inns at Arima Onsen town have closed, as reported by The Mainichi. Despite the ghost-like silence that now grips at the town, it was only recently that an increase in tourism in the area had seen positive growth in profits. With most of the world currently in lockdown, the recent hustle and bustle that hit the small town seems now like it was only a dream.

The series of short videos have been put together by volunteering inn owners at Arima Onsen, and are now available to watch at home on the official project YouTube Channel. The VR tour transforms the viewer’s bathtub into one of Arima Onsen's relaxing hot-spring baths, through the use of enchanting visuals and peaceful audio. By adding in one of Arima Onsen’s official bath salts, the experience steps up another level and the whole sensation is enough to trick your mind into believing you are really soaking in one of the onsen town’s renowned bathhouses.

The project currently only showcases VR tour videos from Arima Sansoh Goshobessho, Takayamasou Hanano, Taketoritei Maruyama, Tocen Goshoboh and Motoyu Ryuusenkaku, but a second edition is presently being produced with plans to include Negiya Ryofukaku, Arima Gyoen, and Miyukisou Hanamusubi.

The volunteering inns hope that they have taken the first steps into the world of modern technology for onsens across the country, and plan to invite other national hot-springs to collaborate in the project. The motivation behind the project is the belief that by increasing the efficiency of quarantine (by persuading people to stay at home) and by lifting mental spirits, the inns will ultimately contribute to help reduce infections and the suffering brought on by the coronavirus, even if that contribution is only small.

To immerse yourself into the world of VR onsen experiences you will need to have a set of goggles on hand. This is something which may seem like a slight hindrance, but as the owner of Arima Sansoh Goshobessho, Kazushige Kanai, stated to The Mainichi “I hear that there are many people who spend their time playing games at home, so we feel that more people will start using these goggles as well.

The volunteers behind the project state in their press release the importance of safety whilst watching the VR tour videos in the bath, and conclude that the videos can also be enjoyed just as well away from any water.

With the chance to experience a soak in one of Japan’s oldest Onsen towns hot-springs whilst relaxing in your own bath, who knows what's coming next?

Happy Soaking!

By - Connie Sceaphierde.