Love can start in the tub at this romantic onsen that puts the power in ladies’ hands.

Recently, we spent the night at a ryokan (Japanese inn) called Shosenkaku, located in Nagano. Like a lot of ryokan, Shosenkaku’s most attractive amenities are its natural onsen hot spring baths, including one that allows you to sing karaoke while you’re in the tub.

But for those of you who aren’t into music and/or holding electrical devices while sitting in a pool of water, Shosenkaku has another bath that’s unlike any we’ve ever seen before. So as soon as he got out of the private karaoke bath, our reporter Ahiru Neko put his hotel-provided robe back on and headed to the men’s communal bath.

After undressing in the changing area, he stepped into the inside portion of the bath, which has washing stations and a tub with hot spring water cascading into it. But he skipped the indoor bath, and after scrubbing himself clean he stepped out into the rotenburo, or outdoor bath. For the sake of space efficiency, the men’s and women’s rotenburo at many ryokan are adjacent to each other, with a dividing wall standing between them. Shosenkaku’s is no exception, but it also has one very unique feature.

Built into the wall is a small shrine. Taking a look at the explanation posted above it, Ahiru Neko learned that this is an omiai shrine, with its purpose being to help singles find a romantic partner (“omiai” usually refers to meetings set up by a matchmaker between two singles looking for a serious relationship and, hopefully, a spouse).

The sign included directions on how to use the shrine:
1. Sit in front of the shrine
2. Bow
3. Place an offering of a five-yen (US$0.04) coin on the shrine
4. Clap your hands
5. Wait

Ordinarily, you clap your hands when praying at a Shinto shrine to ensure that the gods hear your prayers. However, despite its spiritual trappings, Shosenkaku’s omiai shrine doesn’t actually rely on divine intervention, and there’s an entirely secular reason for men to clap their hands.

Remember how we said the shrine is built into the wall that divides the men’s and women’s bath? That’s because there’s a door in the center of the shrine

…and you clap your hands to signal to whoever’s on the other side of the wall that you’d like to talk. In other words, you’re not clapping to get the attention of the gods, but of any eligible bachelorettes.

If this system seems like it’d be ripe for abuse by pervy peeping Toms, rest assured that Shosenkaku has thought ahead. The mechanism to open the doors can only be operated from the women’s bath, and even once the doors open, the frosted glass (with a heart-shaped cutout to let you hear each other’s voices) and limited field of view mean that you and your potential match won’t see anything more than each other’s faces, as long as you’re both sitting directly in front of the shrine.

▼ Our reporter Yoshio demonstrates

However, there are no guarantees in the quest for love, and that goes for matchmaking onsen as well. When Ahiru Neko tried out the omiai bath, there turned out to be no women at all using the ladies’ outdoor tub, and so he was unable to meet his soul mate.

On the other hand, he did leave the bath with his psyche relaxed and his skin smooth, both of which ae sure to help his dating prospects. And really, if you’re going to spend time waiting for love to come along, instead of a smoky bar or a noisy club, wouldn’t you rather do your waiting in a soothing natural hot spring?

Hotel information
Shosenkaku / 松仙閣
Address: Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Shinonoi Komatsubara 2475

Photos ©SoraNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]

Follow Casey on Twitter, where his favorite onsen experience remains the time he rented a private bath and the clock broke, so he had no idea when his time was up.

[ Read in Japanese ]