With their reputed healing powers, Japan's onsen, or volcanic hot springs, have attracted the weary since the days of the samurai (Peter Blakely/Redux)

Springs Eternal

In rural Japan, stressed workers and tourists seek geothermal ease

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"California," I replied.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, turning to his two companions for a quick conference in rapid-fire Japanese. He turned back to me, his smile even bigger. "California! Mamas and Papas!"

I blinked. Then it clicked. Yes! "California Dreamin'"! "That's right!" I said. Cultural connection established (thanks, Mama Cass, wherever you are), we all laughed and talked a bit more in a mixture of English and hand motions. Under the shadow of the tree-covered mountains, listening with one ear to the rushing stream below and with the other to the rush of Japanese, I could feel the water melting away barriers of language and culture. Naked and wet, I relaxed for the first time in days. Hadaka no tsukiai, indeed.

Berlin-based author Andrew Curry is a former editor at Smithsonian.
Photographer Peter Blakely, who lives in Japan, covers social, economic and political issues in Asia


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