It’s fair to say that “Onsen” or “hot spring” is one of the symbols of Japanese culture. There is no other place in the world that people enjoy hot springs as much as Japan.
The number of onsen fans from overseas visitors is also increasing.
To be honest with you, the idea of going to Onsen terrified me when I first came to Japan. In my country, we have no culture of public baths. So to say, I have never been naked in front of strangers before in my life.
Also, coming from a tropical country, I didn’t get the idea of soaking myself in hot water. Why would we need that when the outside temperature is 35 degrees Celsius?
But hey, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?
Even Japanese monkeys love hot springs!
You can either spend a night at the onsen hotel or you can just take a day trip. Both are possible.
Spending a night at the onsen ryokan can be expensive though, depending on what kind of Ryokan you choose. The more luxurious it is, the more expensive it becomes. You can also choose to have the meal there or you can eat on your own somewhere else.
There are several famous onsen near the city where I lived then. Once I tried it, I grew quite fond of it. It wasn’t as embarrassing as I feared it would be.
Actually, nobody paid any attention to me at all! Everyone just did their own thing and had a great time.
Since having a tattoo is associated with the yakuza gangs in Japan, most onsen hotels do not allow people with tattoos to enter the premises.
There are some tattoo friendly ryokan as well but be sure to check their policies first before you make a reservation.
Below are some basic Onsen manners you should know;
Make sure you use the correct changing room
You can potentially get arrested by walking into the wrong changing room, not to mention it’s quite embarrassing. So be sure to always check the sign in front of the door before you walk in.
I made a huge mistake once as I didn’t know the changing rooms usually switch in the morning. I just used the same one I used the night before. I didn’t know at first since there was no one in there when I walked in. A few moments later, a few guys were approaching as I was undressing.
Fortunately I had a big towel nearby which I used to wrap my body temporarily. I ran out as fast as I could… Lesson learned!!!
Go naked, no swimwear!
In some countries, it’s ok to put on swimwear when taking a bath or going to the sauna. However in Japan, you have to remove your clothes.
It’s the traditional culture of Japan that everyone goes into a bath together naked, even at home. Do not be ashamed, take off your clothes and put them in the basket provided.
Some hotels provide lockers for valuables. Please use them if you need to.
Always shower first
Many people don’t get why they have to take a shower since they are about to take a bath a few moments later!
Well, for hygienic reasons, you should clean your body thoroughly before entering the bath tub. Remember, many people will use this bath, not only yourself. If 10 dirty bodies go in, the other 10 bodies will get dirty as well.
Sit on the stool and clean your body with water and soap. Make sure you wash out everything. Soap is not allowed in the bath since it will pollute the hot spring water.
Do not swim
The bath tub is not for swimming although some are large enough to be a pool.
DO NOT SWIM, DO NOT RUN! Walk slowly in the bath room since the wet floor can be quite slippery. If you bring your children, please keep a close eye on them.
Do not dip your towel in the bath
You are allowed to bring a small towel into the bath. Do not use it to wipe your body or dip in the water.
Since you can’t allow your wash cloth to lie around, you can put it on your head. I saw many Japanese do that.
Never go in the onsen if you are drunk
If you drink some alcohol, please refrain from taking the onsen. You can easily pass out and drown. I don’t need to tell you how dangerous it is. Some people like to have beer after bath, that’s totally ok… but after, not before!
Drinks are typically not allowed in the bath. If you feel thirsty, you can always have a sip of water in the changing room.
These are the most important manners I could think of. There are many other minor things such as wipe your body before you leave the bath room, do not stare at other people etc.
If you really feel uncomfortable being naked, you can always go for Ashiyu (足湯） or foot spa. No need to take off your clothes and most Ashiyu is free of charge.
Next time, I will share with you the top three snow view onsen in Japan, stay tuned for more updates!
Story by MONTHLY
Illustrator : P. Kammasorn