For more than 35 years Dale Krieger managed the finances of wealthy families. Yet in an ironic twist of fate that echoes the core message of the classic play “You Can’t Take It With You” — the title says it all — his last contribution to the world was not a strategy for people to grow their money but rather it was the creation of a sanctuary where people can indulge in an even more precious commodity: wellness.
Krieger, who was born in 1950 and graduated from Syracuse University, never went to Japan but on a trip to Santa Fe, he and his wife, Veronica, visited 10,000 Waves, a spa that offered “onsen,” the Japanese term for the communal bathing facilities and inns around hot springs. The Japanese tradition of onsen (pronounced OWN-sen) dates back to ancient history and was not limited to Japan (in ancient Rome these baths offered citizens an opportunity to socialize and unwind after a day’s work). Today the thousands of onsen scattered along Japan’s coastal communities and inland play a central role in the country’s culture. While enjoying a soak in an outdoor communal cedar hot tub built in the Japanese tradition at 10,000 Waves, Krieger hatched the idea of building an onsen in the Princeton area.
“Dale had a vision to create a place where people can come out of their daily hectic lives and find a place of holistic wellness,” says his wife, Veronica Krieger, co-founder with her late husband, who died suddenly from an accident in November, of Onsen for All in Kingston. Housed in the Jedediah Higgins House, a 5,000 square foot restored building dating to 1705 and listed on the National Historic Register at the intersection of Raymond Road and Route 27, Onsen for All is not a spa, says Krieger, but rather “a multi-service wellness center supporting wholeness of body, mind, and spirit in an environment inspired by Japanese tradition.”
Darby Mackenzie Line, a holistic wellness practitioner since 1994 and Onsen’s general manager, says, “Dale loved to find old properties and restore them [see U.S. 1, October 18, 2006, for the story of Kreiger’s restoration of seven turn-of-the-century homes on Mapleton Road, called Princeton Nurseries Village]. When he first began this project he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with it. But he felt that the building had a very friendly, loving energy.”
The remarkably peaceful property (considering its proximity to the road) includes four massage treatment rooms, a wet treatment room (with its own shower), a meeting/consultation room with fireplace, a yoga and group activities studio, a juice and tea bar with fireplace, a meditation/gathering room with fireplace, changing and shower facilities for men and women, a reception area with fireplace — and a giant Buddha head in the lobby that sets the calm Japanese tone that pervades the whole building.
But the star feature of the property isn’t inside, it’s outdoors: sheltered from the outside world by tall walls made of bamboo are four soaking hot tubs made of Canadian cedarwood — one for men, one for women (with a roof), one communal, and one private — and a wood burning sauna in a 2,200 square foot courtyard. The water in the tubs is sanitized naturally, 24/7 with a bromine salt technology that is undetectable to the user.
At the press opening I had the good fortune of being the only member of the Princeton area media in attendance and was surrounded by Japanese journalists who had taken the train down from New York. When Kana Sasaki and Michiko Yoshifuji, both Japanese natives and freelance writers from Manhattan, said they had not brought their bathing suits but that they were willing to take a soak au naturel (the true Japanese way), who was I to say no?
Krieger invited us to use the private tub (the only one with jets). We expertly ditched the lone male Japanese journalist and made our way across the 300-year-old New Jersey pine floors down to the women’s locker room, where we doffed our clothes , showered (a requirement before entering the tubs), and donned our baby soft Onsen for All robes made of terrycloth and microfiber (which are also for sale, $65).
The water in the onsen tubs is heated to 101 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which is quite toasty, though, according to Sasaki and Yoshifuji, not as hot as in Japan. Throwing caution to the wind I plunged (or rather, eased) my wired-tight-as-a-drum self into the water. As I sunk in lower to reach the seating bench that wraps around the inside of the tub the water received me with the kind of embrace that comes from a deep place that says, you’re warm and safe now, just close your eyes and lie still. Which I did.
My new Japanese friends stepped in and Yoshifuji found the jets. As the water hit that rib where I recently sustained a hairline fracture (thanks to an overzealous rendezvous with the lat machine at the gym), I said to myself, this is good, this is very good.
Yoshifuji and Sasaki chatted away alternately in Japanese and English, and we all agreed that the only thing missing was a bottle of champagne and eight of our closest friends. At $29/group per half-hour (with a discount for four people or more), the private tub is a very good deal (though you’ll have to save the champagne for later). The other tubs are an even better deal: $20 lets you soak as long as you want and one can feasibly spend the entire day at Onsen for All, alternately soaking and hanging out in the lounge, sipping the exotic organic juices imported from Turkey. I recommend the juice called rose sherbet.
Corporate event planners take note: Onsen for All offers a decidedly different alternative to the can-you-yawn-any-wider hotel deal for a corporate retreat or offsite. According to Krieger, Novo Nordisk has already inquired about taking over the meditation room to bring in a group of its employees for a daylong project planning session — complete with head and shoulders massage and hot tub breaks, and other companies have shown interest as well. Dow Jones has already booked an all-day planning meeting in the yoga studio. According to Darby Line, “They loved that this is not the corporate sterile hotel room, and that the yoga studio has windows on three sides.” As for the general public’s interest she says, “Weekends are insane.”
After Yoshifuji, Sasaki, and I moved over to the women’s tub for a second soak, we decided we were thoroughly tubbed-out. Feeling completely relaxed and pampered, we reluctantly changed back into our real-world clothes, as Sasaki joked that all we needed to complete our new “naked friendship” was a private jet. I offered Sasaki a ride back to the train station, via Nassau Street (she is focusing her coverage on making Princeton a day-long destination from New York, to include a stop at Onsen for All), and made my way to the office.
I didn’t really want to let go of the peaceful, calm feeling that had somehow seeped its way into my body somewhere between the cool fresh air on my face, the fabulous scent of fresh cedar in my nose, and the hot water from the neck down, and I decided that Krieger was right when she said that Onsen for All is a place where “people can just step out of the craziness.” If I play my cards right with Santa, maybe my stocking will include a gift certificate for a raindrop treatment (one hour, $110), a hot stone massage (75 minutes, $120), or an aromatherapy massage (one hour, $90).
The other day I caught up with Michele Russo, arts partnerships director at Young Audiences of New Jersey, who had recently been to Onsen for All with her friend, Coby Green-Rifkin, director of marketing at Grounds For Sculpture. Russo is on soak number four or five of her 10-soak pass ($150) and says going to Onsen for All “gives you the feeling of being away. I feel more relaxed afterwards than after a massage.”
Onsen for All, 4451 Route 27 at Raymond Road, 609-924-4800. www.onsenforall.com
Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, Sunday, December 20, 2:30 p.m.. Drew Hanson, a licensed teacher of the Urasenke tradition of Japanese tea, presents a historical overview of the tea ritual, which incorporates elements of zen Buddhism into a social context, and will demonstrate tea making. Sweets and tea will be offered to all attendees, as well as a 25 percent discount on hot tub soak after the tea ceremony. $35. Register.
Blue Moon New Year’s Eve, Thursday, December 31, 9 p.m. to midnight. Soak in an outdoor cedar hot tub, and immerse yourself in the experience of yoga, kirtan, meditation, art-making, and trance drumming. Teas, savory snacks, and sweets. Special guest Suzin Green leads chanting and meditation accompanied by Daniel Johnson on tabla. Toast in the new year under the second full moon of December, the Blue Moon. $55; $100 per couple.