With centuries of tradition on their side, Japan's hordes of naked bathers remain unmoved by the island nation's bid to tap a rich reserve of power equivalent to about 20 nuclear reactors.

The resource-poor country, which last year spent ¥18.2 trillion importing fossil fuels, has the world's third-largest geothermal reserves, representing an estimated 23 gigawatts of power, according to the International Energy Agency's geothermal division. Less than 600 megawatts, or about 2 percent, of that capacity is being used at the moment, according to the agency.

The nation's onsen (hot springs) have been in use for more than a millennium as communal baths. Additionally, to this day, heat bubbling up from below the Earth's surface is used in some mountain villages to boil eggs or to keep roads free of winter snow and ice.