If you want to enjoy bathing hot springs in Japan, your recognition might be different from the Japanese way.
For Japanese, “Hot Springs” are recognized as the actual means of “taking a bath” not as the warm water swimming pool.
First of all, you may be surprised to be naked for taking hot springs called “Onsen” (温泉) in Japan.
Although you are enough shy to be naked, you are not allowed to wear bathing suits or underwear in Japanese Onsen.
You may need to choose international guest-friendly Onsen facilities, which means you can wear bathing suits.
Japan has an original unique culture of “Onsen”, but unfortunately you need to follow rules.
To avoid getting disappointed with hot springs in Japan, I am going to tell you what you need to know about “Onsen”.
The Japanese “Bathing” 101
Japanese people love bathing.There has been a culture of enjoying public baths since the Edo period (1603 – 1868), and they have strong emotions about bathing compared with other countries.
For Japanese people, “bathing”, “taking a bath” is not only an essential routine to clean the body but also to relax and heal the body in the tub. (most Japanese prefer bathing rather than just taking a shower)
As Japanse general routine, they take a bath (clean the body) before going to bedbecause of the consciousness of not wanting to enter the futon with a dirty body.
What is Hotsprings in Japan
As a volcanically active country,
Japan is one of the best “hot springs sanctuaries” in the world. Hot spring sources exceed 27,000, and 3,085 accommodations with hot springs throughout Japan.
Japanese people have been blessed with such abundant hot spring resources, they love to enjoy unique hot spring culture since ancient times.
Also, it is said hot springs have a variety of healing effects such as
- recovering from fatigue
- improving poor circulation
- alleviating rheumatism
Besides, Minerals contained in water vary by regions do people enjoy hauls hot springs from region to region.
There are many hot springs on the mountains and beaches, and you can enjoy the view of while soaking in the bath at some Ryokan places.
Manners and Etiquettes
Hotspring aka “Onsen” in Japanese, it is the public facilities so that there are many public manners and etiquettes for taking Onsen.
As I told before, there are some misunderstandings between the Japanese way and other countries’ ways to bath in hot springs.
I am going to tell you one by one.
Wear Bathing Suits
To bath in “Onsen” in Japan, you must be naked.
It is commonly prohibited to wear bathing suits.(except bathing suits-friendly Onsen facilities)
It is a Japanese traditional culture, everyone goes into a bath together nakedly.
If you don’t prefer to be naked but still want to have experience of Onsen in Japan, Do not worry!
The number of onsen facilities includes Ryokans has been increased for international visitors who don’t get used to being naked in public.
Honestly, I am not comfortable being naked in front of other people, even with fams.
so hotsprings was not in my bucket list even though I like to stay in Ryokan.
Even for me, bathing suits-friendly onsen is good news.
It is another option if you don’t mind more budget, there are Ryokan which has rooms with a private “Onsen” tub.
Make Sure “Noren”, Japanese Door Curtains
Most onsen baths are gender-segregated, make sure you are going to enter the correct side according to your gender.
You can find out from the color of “Noren” – Japanese style door curtains hang up at the entrance to Onsen.
- Male (left)…Blue, “男”, “おとこ”
- Female (Right)…Red, “女”, “おんな”
If you(female) are still not sure which side you should go in, here’s my Japanese card for you.
Wash Body FIRST
One of the essential rules for taking a bath in Japan, you must clean your body before soaking into the bathtub.
Do not clean your body with soap bars in the tab, soaking only.
• KA KE YU (掛け湯)
You will see the Japanese people scoop hot water from the bathtubs with tiny buckets and splash over their bodies a few times before soaking in the bathtub.
It is called “Ka Ke Yu”, which means for cleaning YOURSELF or warm up your body.
• USE A TOWEL
Don’t rub your body with a soap bar in the bathroom directly to clean your body, use a towel.
They are for everyone, and commonly Japanese people don’t rub bodies with soap bars directly even in private.
You are provided a narrow long cotton towel called “tenugui” (手ぬぐい) when staying Ryokan, or you need to bring one for clean your body when going to Onsen facilities,
use the towel to clean your body.
If you have sensitive skin, clean the body with your hand.
NO running, NO swimming
Running outside tubs are very slippery, do not run, and better walk carefully.
Onsen is not a swimming pool, DO NOT SWIM.
The major purpose of taking Onsen is not only to wash one’s body but also to rest and relax by soaking Onsen.
Both acts are ill-manners in Japan.
Don’t Soak Hair And Towel
Do not soak the towel in the tub,
if you don’t know what to do, look around what other people do.
Generally, the Japanese put towels on their heads.
Putting a towel on your head has another benefit, it helps to prevent “hot flush” in Onsen.
Also, pay attention not to soak your hair in the tub. Bring a hair tie or clip to hold your hair or wrap the hair with a towel.
DO NOT take pictures
Onsen is a singular experience but seriously,
No photos, don’t bring smartphones and cameras into the public onsen facilities.
If you really want to take a picture, you need to book a room with a private “Onsen” tab.
Beware Loud Talk
Onsen is a place for relaxation so consider the volume to chat with your companies.
However, some Japanese people enjoy chatting so it can depend on the atmosphere.
Consider “Heat Shock”
Japanese Onsen is generally high temperature, around 104F (40℃),
it is not good for your health to soak in the tub for too long at once.
To prevent from “Onsen Heat shock”,
- Drink enough WATER (NOT ALCOHOL) before and after bathing.
- Try a half bath. Soaking up to the neck increases the burden on your heart.
- Repeat take in and out the tub with few times rather than soaking for a long time.
- To enjoy Onsen, do not take the bath if you drink alcoholic beverages too much.
- Take enough rest in your room after bathing.
Wipe Your Body Lightly
As you leave, there’s no need to rinse after the bath for keeping the drug efficacy of Onsen, but wipe yourself lightly with a towel before stepping in a powder room to keep clean and dry.
It’s going to be a long story if I tell you the history of “Tattoo” in Japan and why people who have tattoos are rejected to enter hot springs.
So I’ll tell you not the background history but tell you a quick guide.
In Japanese terms, there are two meanings for “Tattoo”.
“Irezumi” and “Tattoo”.
“Irezumi”(入れ墨) is a Japanese traditional tattoo, which reminds people of the Japanese mafia, Yakuza. This is the main reason why people are rejected to enter hot springs.
When the Japanese people call “Tattoo”(タトュー), it means more fashion terms, it is the same idea of western countries.
Actually, the number of “Tattoo-friendly” public baths and Onsen facilities has been increased.
However, it can be only acceptable size, you know.
Even it has been changing Japanese customs nowadays, stereotypes of Tattoos on the body has still been deep inside of Japanese culture.
But in my opinion, people knows you are not “Yakuza” so I would say you don’t have to be so nervous about tattoo issue.
If you are not sure, you may want to ask the staff whether your tattoo is acceptable or not.
Even though you will be rejected, unfortunately, do not get upset. You are in Japan and need to follow Japanese rules.
To avoid to be the “Tattoo” issue, check out “Tattoo”-friendly Onsen places, or book a room with a private “Onsen” tub.
Hot springs culture in Japan surely is unique.
To enjoy hot springs in Japan, you will need little effort to learn Japanese Onsen etiquette and manners.
While you don’t forget that local Japanese people enjoy hot springs too, everything is going to be alright.
Also, consider your body conditions.
Taking hot springs brings you many health benefits but also consumes lots of energy inside of your body.
Listen to your body and enjoy hot springs.
Here is the health advice for hot springs.
If you are an Onsen beginner, you need to know the pH level of hot spring water to bring better results. If you have sensitive skin or chronic disease, be aware of strong natural minerals in Japanese hot springs.
You don’t have to fly to Japan to have an “Onsen” experience! Here are popular Japanese bath salts that you can make luxury bath time at home!