I “might” have mentioned just a couple of times how much I love Onsen 😛 But in case you missed it, I’m just saying, that they were the best part of my day. And I took them 4-5 times a day: before and after breakfast and dinner and right before going to sleep 😀
What is Onsen?
Onsen is a traditional Japanese bathhouse with geothermal hot spring water. You can find them everywhere in Japan. You can go to a private one as well as a public one. In most of the places I’ve been to, baths were separated, but I know that you can also find mixed baths. They are said to have healing properties for the body, they relieve stress and relax. Onsen water has to be higher than 25C or need to contain one out of 19 selected minerals and substances.
Be aware that there as some guidelines you must follow if you want to enjoy them. I must admit I was a little bit stressed before I tried it for the first time as I was not sure about etiquette. To make your life easier just keep reading 🙂
What to wear
That’s the thing about the hot springs; you don’t wear anything 🙂 Actually, you are not allowed to wear any bathing suits or shirts. You go inside in your whole naked glory 😀
If I went to Japan before I moved to Denmark, I am not sure I would be able to strip naked and go in without getting red on the face (and not from the hot water:P ). I was brought up in a culture where whenever you went to a swimming pool, you covered yourself when changing. As a result, seeing naked bodies, if you actually saw any, felt weird. But then I moved to Denmark, and they are just like Japanese when it comes to nudity. They don’t pay any attention. So I have trained myself not to be ashamed/ terrified/ embarrassed while being naked with other people around. Took me some time though 😛
You should not be afraid either; no one will care. Everyone goes around minding their own business. The first time might be scary but afterward you will stop caring and will just enjoy the experience:)
You are not allowed to enter the hot spring if you have a tattoo. They are associated with Yakuza (Japanese mafia), so in most places, you will see the signs prohibiting them. If they spot that you have one, you most probably will be asked to leave the premises.
So what should you do? Well, if the tattoo is small, you can cover it with a band-aid. I’ve read somewhere some tips about using the waterproof makeup base to cover the bigger ones, but I have no clue if that works.
If it doesn’t work, you can only use private hot springs.
Not an interesting subject for guys, but some girls might find it helpful 🙂 Sorry guys! Skip ahead to the next paragraph 🙂
As you go into the bath naked, you might not be allowed to go in with a tampon. You know – the string that is sticking out. And if you are in Japan, you have to try going to an onsen. I found out I will have this problem while being in one of the hot spring places and there was no way in hell I would skip hot baths. So I started googling, and I found out about the existence of the menstrual cup. At the begging, I was not convinced to the idea, but it rocked my world. And if you really wanna try hot springs, it is worth at least trying it!! Anyway, google it:)
For obvious reasons (being naked, duuh), you are not allowed to take a camera inside. And believe me, some of the onsens are BEAUTIFUL!! Just imagine a typical Japanese garden and nice hot water flowing through the rocks:)
For my pictures, I have gotten permission from my ryokan after I made sure no one is sitting inside. Though I only managed to do it in 2 places and they were not as beautiful as others 🙁
7 step guide
Locate the hot springs area. The entrance is behind the curtain. As mentioned before, usually onsens are gender separated, so make sure you enter the proper doors 🙂
When you enter through the door, you almost immediately will spot area where you have to leave your slippers. A little bit further, you will see a changing area. There are either baskets or lockers to leave all your belongings in (the clothes or yukata and the big towel). You are only allowed to have a small towel (handkerchief ) with you in the hot spring. You might want to use it to cover your private parts.
Now that you are stripped naked you can move on to the bathing area. I know you can see the nice hot bath, but you can’t enter it yet!!
Along the wall, you will spot showers, stools and wash basins. Before you sit on the stool, either fill the basin and rinse the stool or use the shower head for that. Now it is time for the scrub! Wash your entire body and hair. You will find shampoo, conditioner, and soap next to your seat, so don’t be afraid and use it. Make sure you rinse off all of the soap.
In some of the places, I saw a container with hot water and a cup, that you use to rinse your body to warm up. You start with feet and hands, then legs and arms, moving to the torso and then head.
Ready to soak in?! Take it slowly! First, soak half of your body and let it slowly get used to the temperature.
Remember the tiny towel that I mentioned before? You either place it on the side of the bath or your head. Make sure it does not fall into the water!!
If you have long hair, make sure you have an elastic to tie them up. They should not soak in the bath either.
I am pretty sure you would not pee in the bath but just to let you know, Japanese use some kind of coloring thing to mark pee and I am pretty sure you don’t want that to happen:P
Enjoy!! Relax and chill out, close the eyes and listen to the water dripping. If you are with a friend make sure you to lower your voice. In one place I relaxed so much I dozed off for a while. Imagine sitting outside, sun shining, light breeze touching you gently and the sound of water filling the hot spring. Pure bliss!!!
When you are done sitting in hot water, get out but don’t shower. If you do all the healing properties of the onsen will be gone.
Back in the changing room, find your basket/locker and dry yourself up with a big towel. There are hairdryers that you can use as well as combs/brushes. After using them, there is a special place you put them to disinfect them. There are also couple lotions and creams available. My skin after two weeks in Japan was unbelievable!! Thanks to all the lotions and onsens 🙂
And that is it!! The complete guide of how to use the onsen without embarrassing yourself 😀 I hope now you can go in and enjoy it. It is genuinely an unforgettable experience 🙂