Can something as simple as taking a bath be a life changing experience?
Especially if it's at the Selan Onsen in Yamagata.
If you needed a reminder that the Earth is a living, breathing thing, go to Yamagata, tucked in the mountains above Nagano, where every twenty feet or so scalding hot water gurgles out of stones or up bamboo pipes or out of carved dragons' mouths or sprouts in geysers forty feet into the air and then gathers in pools where men and monkeys soak their sore muscles away.
It feels like you're walking on the belly of the world in Yamagata and boy, the world has gas.
If you needed proof it's the right thing to do, observe the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Park. They don't do it because its cultural. They do it 'cuz it's instinctual.
And even if they are engaged in a constant status war with the other various monkey families, the steaming onsen is a place of relative peace.
Even with other primates. Like me.
Of course it being Japan, there is ceremony involved.
First you wash yourself throughly before getting in, purifying yourself before the skinny-dip.
You take the small towel- not the big one, though they both seem small to me, and place it on your head. When you step out for a break from the scalding goodness you cover your privates with the towel, contemplate the setting, the stones, the steam, the view of Yamanouchi Valley.
Then, towel on head, back in you go.
If you ever wanted to be ecstatically relaxed and dangerously rubbery at the same time do this in the evening after hiking all day and then drinking a few Sapporos.
When you get back to the Ryokan you will hit the tatami with a blissfully resounding thud.
At least that's my experience.