Japanese etiquette 101: How to Onsen

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Ask virtually anyone at InsideJapan Excursions what’s their favorite factor about Japan, and they’re going to in all probability listing the individuals, the meals, and the onsen. Heck, ask any Japanese individual what’s their favorite factor about Japan they usually’ll most probably say the identical. And but for such a well-loved pastime, onsen are additionally in all probability the scariest a part of Japanese tradition for many foreigners.

However don’t fear – after studying this information, you too will probably be an onsen grasp!

See more: What is a japanese onsen

Senninburo, a giant outdoor onsen bath carved into the riverbed at Kawayu Onsen (photo: Kumano Travel)
Senninburo, an enormous out of doors onsen tub carved into the riverbed at Kawayu Onsen (photograph: Kumano Journey)

What’s an onsen?

First issues first! An onsen 温泉 (lit. “sizzling water spring”) is a pure sizzling spring tub, and due to its plentiful volcanic exercise Japan has plenty of them.

Onsen water is geothermally heated beneath the bottom and rises to the floor effervescent sizzling. The stipulations of an official onsen are that the water should comprise a minimum of one of many 19 designated chemical components that naturally happen in sizzling spring water, and it should be a minimum of 25C when it comes out of the bottom. Rotenburo is one other phrase chances are you’ll hear in Japan and refers to an outside onsen (the most effective form!).

Sento, alternatively, are indoor public bathhouses provided by odd heated water. While onsen are typically seemed on as one thing as a deal with, sento are the on a regular basis bathhouses of odd Japanese individuals – and as such make a really fascinating expertise in themselves, though typically it may be a bit formidable to enter by yourself as only a few foreigners take the time to hunt them out.

Nonetheless, the foundations of etiquette are the identical for each onsen and sento, so together with your newfound abilities you’ll be capable of sort out any bathhouse with aplomb.

Onsen and sento entrances are marked by half-length curtains. Red means women; blue means men! (Photo: Kifu no Sato)
Onsen and sento entrances are marked by half-length curtains. Purple means girls; blue means males! (Picture: Kifu no Sato)

What’s so nice about them?

Communal bathing doesn’t precisely sound interesting to most gaijin (foreigners), however in Japan it’s a beloved a part of conventional tradition.

Onsen water has been believed to have a mess of therapeutic properties principally since time started, and is packed stuffed with minerals which might be considered good on your pores and skin, circulation and basic well being. Onsen baths may be stunning objects in themselves – made out of supplies similar to cypress wooden, marble and granite – and are sometimes located in areas of excellent pure magnificence or connected to beautiful conventional inns, which reinforces their attraction.

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There actually is nothing extra stress-free or therapeutic than mendacity again in a sizzling tub after an extended day – particularly once you’re surrounded by falling snow, on a seaside, overlooking a gorgeous mountain view, or listening to a river dashing previous. When you’ve carried out it, you’ll by no means look again!

Nyuto Onsen
Nyuto Onsen’s well-known out of doors tub

So what do I must know?

There are fairly a couple of guidelines of etiquette surrounding onsen bathing, and this could make the entire thing appear somewhat scary and uncomfortable once you’re unsure what you’re doing – however when you’ve carried out it when you’ll realise that it’s actually not that difficult in spite of everything.


1. Birthday fits solely!

Yep – you heard me. No speedos allowed! This (unsurprisingly) is the bit that places most individuals off, and anyone at InsideJapan will inform you that all of them felt the identical anxiousness the primary time they tried it. When you dare to reveal, nonetheless, it actually doesn’t take lengthy to get used to it – and once you see that the Japanese don’t bat an eyelid you’ll quickly lose your self-consciousness. (N.B. I’ve heard inform {that a} good bit of staring is par for the course within the mens’ onsen, however I can vouch that it’s very civilised within the girls’!)

For individuals who actually can’t abdomen the thought of stripping off in public, there are a selection of the way you may get round it. For one, there are various conventional ryokan inns the place the visitor rooms have personal rotenburo baths connected (these will probably be amongst the costlier rooms), and in some inns the general public baths can be found for personal use on request. One other various is to go to an onsen with milky water – when you’re in, no person can see something!

A makeshift onsen dug from the riverbed at Kawayu Onsen (Photo: Kumano Travel)
A makeshift onsen dug from the riverbed at Kawayu Onsen (Picture: Kumano Journey)

2. Bathe earlier than you bathe.

To the Japanese, the Western observe of washing your self within the tub is, effectively… fairly gross really! Even when bathing within the privateness of their very own house, the Japanese at all times clear themselves underneath the bathe earlier than having a soak within the tub – and that is much more vital once you’re visiting a communal sento or onsen – to maintain the water as clear as doable.

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To this finish, each onsen has a row of showers across the exterior of the tub. Cleaning soap, shampoo and conditioner are normally offered (although you possibly can convey your individual when you desire), and you’re anticipated to sit down down on one of many stools offered whilst you wash. It’s thought of unhealthy manners to face up whilst you wash, as you would possibly splash one of many individuals subsequent to you – and it’s essential to bear in mind to rinse totally in order to not get cleaning soap within the tub water.

Although it’s much less vital than showering earlier than you bathe, most Japanese may have a fast rinse underneath the bathe after a soak within the onsen – and if they’re returning to the tub after utilizing a sauna or steam room.

Typical bucket and stool used for washing at an onsen (Photo: Kifu no Sato)
Typical bucket and stool used for laundry at an onsen (Picture: Kifu no Sato)

3. Towels

At any onsen, you’ll both be supplied with a small and a big towel, or there will probably be some accessible to lease. This isn’t at all times the case at native sento baths, so you’re suggested to convey your individual.

The massive towel is for drying your self and needs to be left within the altering room (alongside together with your garments), whereas the small towel is for laundry and may be taken into the showering space. You may take your small towel into the tub with you (the truth is, many individuals put them on their heads!) however you mustn’t let it go within the water.

Enjoying Nyuto
Having fun with Nyuto Onsen

4. Hair & head

When you have lengthy hair, at all times bear in mind to convey a hairband or to wrap your hair in a small towel, as even when you’ve simply washed your hair underneath the bathe – you need to take care to be sure that it doesn’t go within the tub water. You wouldn’t need to be sitting round amongst different individuals’s hairballs, would you? Effectively that’s why.

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In reality, even when you don’t have any hair you need to chorus from placing your head underwater, as there may be at all times a small probability that shared water might carry an infection, and placing your head underwater will increase your threat of catching one thing.

Onsen overlooking the mountains at Mount Tokachidake
Onsen overlooking the mountains at Mount Tokachidake

5. Tattoos

As I defined in a current put up, tattoos are one thing of a taboo in Japan – thanks for essentially the most half to their affiliation with Japanese organised crime (the yakuza). Sadly, because of this most onsen and sento ban tattoos fully – even whether it is blatantly clear that you’re not a part of the mafia. It doesn’t make a lot sense, however guidelines is guidelines!

When you have a small tattoo, chances are you’ll effectively get away with out anyone noticing – or you possibly can cowl it up with a sticking plaster or bandage. When you have a bigger tattoo that’s tough to cowl you might have extra issues. Some options are to remain at ryokan inns the place there are personal rotenburo baths or onsen that may be rented for personal use, or to go to the resort onsen late at night time after the opposite visitors have dispersed. In case you’re very courageous, you can even discover out the place the actual yakuza bathhouses are – however we’re not going to suggest it!

Sign forbidding tattoos at Tobu Super Pool
Signal forbidding tattoos at Tobu Tremendous Pool (Picture: bnok.vn)

6. Noise

Bathhouses are social locations, and most onsen-goers wish to have a little bit of a chat whereas they chill out – so so long as you’re not being rowdy you definitely don’t want to fret about making an excessive amount of noise.

Indoor bath at Nyuto Onsen
Indoor tub at Nyuto Onsen

7. Alcohol

Onsen and sento will typically show indicators indicating that you shouldn’t drink and bathe – for fairly apparent causes I believe. That mentioned, a cup of sake or a chilly beer whilst you soak may be divine, so when you’ve received your individual personal rotenburo then I say go proper forward!

(Picture: Kifu no Sato)

Learn extra: High 10 issues to do in Japan

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