Japanese Onsen Tips | Dos & Don'ts for Hot Springs

Japan has about 10% of the world's active volcanoes, a country blessed with volcanic hot springs known as "Onsen" in Japanese. Some of you may have heard that there are quite abundant types of onsen and that guests are usually required to follow certain manners and rules before entering the hot springs. If this is of interest to you, or if you are preparing to go on a Japan onsen tour, please read on. In this article, we will explain them in a simple way so that you can have a relaxing onsen experience without any misunderstandings.

Snow Monkey in the OnsenSnow Monkey in the Onsen

Many archaeological sites and documents show the relationship between Japanese people and Onsen was long established. Since long ago, Japanese people have been healed by the effects of onsen, such as curing illness and warming the body.

The area around the source of Onsens has developed as a tourist destination in various places, and the way Japanese people enjoy Onsens is not just to soak in the hot water, but to enjoy the scenery and resort moods of Onsen Ryokan as well as the atmosphere of the whole town.

Take a Shower Before Entering Onsen

For hygienic and health reasons, it is recommended to take a shower before entering the onsen. Please remember that rubbing your body in the onsen is also considered a bad practice. This is because even if you have showered before, dirt will inevitably come off in the water. Also, no washing inside the bathtub. Jumping into hot water suddenly puts a lot of pressure on your heart and blood vessels due to temperature and water pressure changes. Just use the shower to get used to the temperature before entering.

Be Completely Naked When You Enter Onsen

Bathing suits are usually allowed in most spas around the world. So the naked rule at the onsen may come as a bit of a shock to most visitors. However, this doesn't mean you have to be completely naked in front of strangers - you can cover yourself with a towel until just before you enter the hot spring, and don't forget to leave your towel outside the bathtub. The feeling of being naked may be embarrassing at first, but once you get used to it, you will find that it is a good way to enjoy the onsen with your whole body.

For your still unbeatable shamelessness, there is another option for you to avoid embarrassment. Rent a private outdoor hot tub, and then you can soak in the hot water no matter naked or in your swimsuit.

Cover Your Tattoos When Entering Onsen

According to research, more than half of the onsen in Japan do not allow people with tattoos to enter. For some complex and deep reasons, tattoos in Japan are usually related to criminal gangs and can intimidate people. To avoid conflict and to show respect to the locals, it is highly recommended that you cover your tattoos with stickers before entering the hot springs.

With the improvements to reduce the stress of both foreign tourists and the facilities, now people who have tattoos for various reasons such as religion, culture and fashion can enter the onsen. If the tattoo is small and does not intimidate other bathers, no special measures are required.

Do Not Swim or Dive in Onsen

It is quite impolite to swim in hot springs, as this is a place to relax your body. Sitting still is a good way to enjoy the hot springs, which can gradually warm you up and help you get used to the high temperature. If there are fewer people and a large empty space, you can also lie down. Just make sure you keep your head above the water and don't let your hair down in the hot springs.

Do Not Be Drunk Before Entering the Onsen

Due to the high temperature of the water, bathing after drinking would be a bit harmful to your health. It is because it puts you at risk of falling or drowning in the water and can cause low blood pressure and irregular heartbeats. Also, someone who has just had a lot of alcohol may be refused entry onsen. Since everyone is naked and, in many cases, fragile items such as glasses can be extremely dangerous. Drinking and eating are usually not allowed in the public area of the onsen. You can rent a private tub to try the onsen egg and warm sake. 

Do Not Take Photos in Onsen

To avoid further misunderstandings, it is recommended that you leave your camera or mobile phone in the locker. When you enter the onsen, you may be impressed by how beautiful and exotic it looks and want to take a photo of the surroundings. Well, it is quite easy to cause embarrassment by taking photos in the public area of the onsen, as everyone is naked, and the act of taking photos in the onsen may violate local laws.


Before Entering 

Before entering an onsen, cleanse your body by drawing hot water from the kakeyu bath. This will help wash the dirt off your body and accustom your cold body to the hot water. But don't throw boiling water over your shoulders just to get used to it quickly. To minimize the strain on your heart, try to warm up your body first by pouring a small amount of warm water over your toes and other areas away from your heart.

During the Bathing

When taking a bath, enter from the opposite side to where the hot water comes out. The place where the water comes out is considered the purest, and no one should contaminate it.

Even if you have already warmed up your body with Kakeyu, suddenly jumping into hot water can put a lot of pressure on your heart. It is therefore a good idea to soak half of your body in the bathtub first, immersing yourself in hot water only up to your waist. Once you have got used to the water temperature, you can try to slowly immerse yourself in hot water up to your shoulders. Whatever method you use, try to avoid staying in the hot water for too long.

After the Bathing

When you get out of the onsen, wipe your body with a towel before going outside. Then put on a yukata before going to the lounge, which has massage chairs, a small bar and a shop selling food and specialties. You can use the chair for further relaxation or order a glass of beer or milk to cool down.

Private OnsenPrivate Onsen

Some of the etiquette mentioned above may be confusing at first, but once you have experienced it, you will find that is really helpful to enjoy the hot springs. If you're embarrassed to enter an onsen with other people, consider choosing a ryokan with a private outdoor or indoor onsen. Whether you are new to hot springs or not, be sure to visit and fully experience Japanese onsen culture and the gourmets that come with it. To further enhance your Japan tour, contact our specialists for a customized itinerary that includes the most beautiful onsen!


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