From Hokkaido to Kyushu, facials to foot rubs

Picture yourself in a tranquil rain forest, with the faint smell of trop­ical flowers in the air, laid out on a table with gentle fingers working out tense muscles you had almost forgotten. Chances are you envision a peaceful retreat in Bali or Thailand. Southeast Asia has long been at the center of spa culture, and the spa industry worldwide is grow­ing at a rampant pace that belies its relaxing roots.

Bathing has always been big in Japan – going to onsen (natural hot springs) is part of the culture. Traditionally used for healing and medicinal purposes, onsen are now a favorite getaway and act as a social leveler. (Getting naked with your boss, or a potential client, is a common way of cementing a business relationship.) But the all-out pampering experience that is a spa has been relatively uncommon in Japan…until recently.

Spas are now becoming “hot” property here too, as the Japanese begin to catch on to what it really means to relax. At a spa, you don’t just soak away your aches, pains and worries; you have them massaged, foot-rubbed and jet-showered out of you. Then there is aromatherapy, face-masks, body-rubs, herbal baths and almost every other possible way o relaxing and rejuvenating.

This new demand has seen several plush new spa resorts open around Tokyo and other parts of Japan – some near top-class ski resorts, making for the perfect winter break. Weekender sent out six “his’n’her” teams to find out what some of the best places have to offer, and with the help of our spa expert friends at Asia Spa, look at trends and treatments, and get to the heart of the Asian spa experience.

Bloom Spa

(Lake Toy, Hokkaido)

His: Bloom Spa is a lot like the spas in Singapore and other areas in Southeast Asia. The spa, like the whole hotel, is extremely relaxing, and a massage there is the perfect way to finish off after a day’s sightseeing. After an onsen I opted for a Swedish massage over some of the fancier treatments, and it was definitely well worth it—very soothing.

The treatment rooms were luxurious and the staff friendly and well trained. This spa was defi­nitely not “just for the ladies”—they also have a section of men’s treatment rooms.

Justin Emery

Hers: Being a lover of aromatherapy treat­ments, I found Bloom Spa’s Aroma Daydream package a completely pampering experience. The package included a hath, scrub and massage.

The bath, filled to the brim with beautifully-scented rose petals, overlooks the view of the lake, creating a perfectly relaxing ambience. After soaking, my skin was treated to the scrub, and I came away feeling clean and refreshed—like a new woman. Last came the massage, which cased every ounce of stress and exhaustion out of my body.

This package is essential for any woman who hasn’t treated herself recently.

Danielle Bauer

Info: No entrance fee into the spa, just the cost of die treatments which range from ¥6,000 for a basic massage and baths, to ¥28,000 for facials. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

From Shin Chitose Airport (Sapporo), two hours by car or an hour and a half train ride to Toya Station, and a complimentary shuttle to the hotel. E-mail [email protected], tel 0142-73-1111, Web site

Manna Esthetics Spa

(Arai, Niigata)

Manna Esthetics Spa

His: The Esthetics Spa Manna has no less than 16 therapy rooms, and offers British and Taiwanese-style reflexology, massages, and three pools (including one that challenges you to walk against the current on a very unique stone bottom resistance track) with salt imported all die way from the Dead Sea.

My therapist Peter turned out to be a fellow Canadian who works each summer as a registered massage therapist in BC. Over die next hour, he worked all the kinks and stress out of my body, while at the same time talking Hockey with me-what a perfect combination.

Branden Moe

Hers: I’d only been there a few hours and I had already made several new friends. One of them recommended the facials, as the spa uses top-of-the-line products. That was all the invitation I needed. I ended up going with the Manna Signature Session and the Manna Facial, and was very pleased with the results.

Next day, I spent a few precious hours alternating between a separate women’s relaxation room, outdoor and indoor whirlpools and baths, sauna and steam room, and came out floating on air. I can imagine how inviting it must be after a day on the slopes.

Holly Fraser

Info: Entrance fee of ¥2,500 entitles guest to use of communal saltwater pools and segregated baths. No fee for guests receiving treatments in the salon only. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday to Thursday. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays and days preceding national holidays. Open in July and August, and re-opens from Dec. 12,2003.

English info: Blair Anderson, tel 0255-73-8462.

Nagomi Spa

(Grand Hyatt, Tokyo)

Nagomi Spa

His: Time spent in the luxurious environs of the Grand Hyatt Spa—pampered by the excellent staff—made me rue the way the “other half” live. Nagomi means harmony, well being, balance and relaxation. You’ll put a big “tick” next to each of those words after a visit.

The spa, with seven treatment rooms—and a treatment suite tor couples—is stocked with Kerstin Florian spa prod­ucts—available for the first time in Japan.

I’m not ashamed to admit I thoroughly enjoyed having the Soothing Strength Gentlemen’s Facial (60 minutes, ¥16,000).

“You actually look healthy for once.”

James Mulligan

Info: Initiation fee ¥300,000, annual fee ¥100,000 per person. Spa treatments extra. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday. E-mail [email protected], tel 4333-8825, Web site


(Phoenix Seagaia Resort, Miyazaki)

The Spa

His: I was a spa rookie before Seagaia, and the next place will be a hard act to follow – this is what “getting away from it all” means. The sea has a calming presence, but my lasting impression is of pines – they are every­where. . .even in the massage room. The pine massage was the highlight for me,with the aromatherapy bath coming a close second. The counseling was helpful – thankfully all staff are bilingual. And the long list of intriguing treatments I didn’t get round to trying has only made me want to go back.

Jim Merk

Hers: I loved the staff and their stories. The products used were extremely high quality and I could see a visible difference in my skin. Go for the stress relief package with its choice of body wrap, pine tea massage and facial. The resort offers much more than the usual spa in the city. Dad can spend the day golfing, kids can go horseback riding and family excursions are great. Plus it just feels good getting out of Tokyo.

Susan Alexander

Info: Tel. 0985-21-1118, Web site

Le Grand Socie

(Pan Pacific Hotel, Yokohama)

His:” Not my scene,” I kept telling myself as I passed countless beauty stands and super-healthy staff. I was the only man in the place, but once I had shed my inhibitions, dancing around in a saltwater Jacuzzi felt pretty good, Likewise the Jet Shower, which involves standing against a wall while a woman aims a high pressure hose at various parts of your body, bordering just on the right side of the pleasure/pain barrier. And apparently the 15 relaxing minutes I had in the thalassotherapy jet bath were worth 30 minutes of vigorous exercise. Good job, because after the spa I hit the hotel lunch buffet.

John Domokos

Hers: The array of cosmetics sections at the entrance got me excited about what was to come; the pool temperature seemed to be set for bathing rather than swimming, so it made sense to take it easy, and the instruction in the saltwater jet pool left no part of me unmassaged. But the best part was the thalasso pack: Dark green-colored sea-weed gel was rubbed all over my body, and everything except my head was enclosed in a steamed capsule. I could feel my skin releasing all the bad things and taking in goodness from the seaweed. I lay there for 15 minutes, fell asleep, and woke up feeling brand new.

Eiko Mieno

Info: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Membership costs ¥20,000, each treatment costs ¥3,000. Non-members pay ¥9,000 for one treatment, ¥ 12,000 for two.

Tel 045-682-1136, (Japanese only).

Spa LaQua

(Tokyo Dome)

His: Looking for that perfect place to indulge your lady, indulge yourself or simply get away from it all? LaQua is the place. Situated in the heart of Tokyo, LaQua brings the art of relaxation to new levels. Three years in the planning (and 1,700 meters of drilling), LaQua has given rise to one of the most comprehensive and relaxing spa experiences around.

With modern architecture complemented by traditional wood and stone, this worldly escape awes and amazes. Replete with onsen (indoor and open air), saunas, lounges, restaurants (Japanese and Korean) and massage styles galore (Thai, Korean, foot) this experience leaves nothing to be desired.

Relax to soft jazz in one of the “warm” rooms; refresh pool-side with a cool drink. Missed the last train or don’t want to leave? Stay overnight. Whatever you do, don’t leave Tokyo without experiencing LaQua.

Jonathan Paine

Hers: A Spa in Tokyo? How relaxing can that be?

It took only a few seconds in the Ladies Specialty Steam Deep Sea Sauna to make me wonder at what point I entered heaven.

Total rejuvenation began in the “Healing Baden.” There are four ceramic and minus-ion low temperature saunas — rooms made of different types of clay and stone, which incorporate new and ancient techniques developed in Bali, Germany and Korea.

These saunas are fantastic; they allow one to relax for long time without suffering from the heat of a regular sauna. Hair, make-up, and nail salons in Spa La Qua offer a variety of services at reasonable prices. Don’t tease yourself with only a few hours. Treat yourself and spend the whole day there.

Ginger Vaughn

Info: Adults ¥2,300, Children ¥1,700. Entrance lee includes rental charges for towel and leisure facilities. Extra charge of ¥300 on holidays. Open from 11 to 9 a.m. (22 hours a day). Make massage appointments at the 6th floor front desk or the 5th floor massage counter.