As I stared at the tiny, weeny towel the size of a large facecloth, I knew it was not the time to be embarassed about getting nude with strangers. I was about to be initiated into the Japanese tradition of the onsen (stick with me to the end of the blog).
I continue to be amazed in this country that you can be in a major city one minute and the next, walking in beautiful woodlands, alongside waterfalls, temples and shrines. Sometimes all within a 500 metre radius. The day before I had found myself completely alone in a cave, with hundreds of lanterns, incense and buddha statues - unforgettable.
A slow ferry across the Seto Inland Sea has now taken me to the city of Matsumaya on the island of Shikoku. The island is famed across Japan for its age-old 1,300 km pilgrimage circuit - the 88 Sacred Temples of Shikoku and I today came across several pilgrims (dressed distinctively in white with a straw hat) on their own journey of enlightenment.
In addition, Matsuyama is home to the famous Dogo Onsen - the oldest hot water spring in Japan, housed in an incredibly beautiful building. Who knew there were so many rules and such a process involved in having a bath? I was bound to get it wrong (luckily males and females are segregated!).
I did OK with putting my shoes in a locker. I did OK getting to the sitting room and being presented with a yakata (bathrobe). Then I got a bit confused. Found my way to the correct bath area and discreetly tried to watch what all the other completely naked Japanese women were doing with the various buckets and stools, without looking like I was perving. I managed to do the pre-cleansing OK, but missed the crucial step - GET INTO THE HOT BATH!!! Luckily a couple of ladies were onto me and steered me in the right direction.
Second mistake - I was supposed to have left my clothes in the sitting room, in a designated seating position. As I sipped my tea and wafer, from someone else's cushion, the warmth and healing power of the spa water washed over me and I felt an overwhelming sense of calm.
No-one told me that getting wet would be such a wonderful experience. It was my first, but certainly not my last onsen. One will never be enough!