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Onsen Etiquette for Blissful Bathing Experience in Japan


Bathing in onsen, the hot springs in Japan, is a must-try winter activity. Whether you're a local or a tourist, these warm waters offer a perfect escape to relax and ease your muscles, all amidst the enchanting beauty of snowy landscapes. There are numerous onsen destinations throughout the country, ranging from well-known resort areas to hidden gems in rural regions. Each of them offers a unique experience with varying mineral compositions, scenic views, and cultural nuances.


Dipping into an onsen in Japan is more than just a warm bath—it's a cultural thing deeply tied to Japan's traditions. To fully immerse yourself in this therapeutic tradition, understanding how to bathe in an onsen and following onsen manners is essential. Here are some etiquettes you have to know:


Embrace your nature

Bathing in an onsen involves being nude, a practice deeply rooted in both cultural and practical considerations in Japan. From a cultural standpoint, this tradition emphasizes equality among bathers and the purity of the hot spring waters. The idea is to immerse oneself in nature without the barrier of clothing, creating a shared and communal experience. On a practical level, being nude allows for thorough cleaning before entering the onsen, ensuring the hot spring water remains as pure as possible. 


Enjoying onsen


Wearing a swimsuit or other clothes in onsen is generally not allowed. However, people usually use a small towel to cover themselves while moving between the washing area and the onsen. Once they enter the onsen, it's common practice to place the small towel on the head, hang it on the side of the onsen, or keep it on the edge of the bath—just avoid immersing it in the hot spring water. 


Clean yourself first

Making sure you're clean before hopping into an onsen isn't just about being polite—it's a big part of the onsen experience. The onsen is not intended for washing; rather, it is a space dedicated to the soothing art of soaking in natural hot spring waters. It’s also a public space, by cleaning thoroughly before getting in, you're helping keep the onsen water nice and pure for everyone. Wash yourself with soap and shampoo provided in the washing area and make sure to rinse it all clean.


Washing area


Some onsens also provide a water bucket right before entering the hot spring. You can use it to rinse your body once again, removing any remaining soap or shampoo. Additionally, it allows you to acclimate your body to the temperature of the onsen water. Gradually introducing yourself to the heat is a good practice, especially considering that onsen water typically ranges from around 37 to 42 degrees Celsius (98 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit).


Tie up your hair

If you have long hair, please tie it up. Keeping long hair tied up prevents it from touching the water, maintaining the cleanliness of the onsen. It also ensures that others won't be disturbed by loose strands floating in the water. This way, everyone gets to enjoy a nice and clean soak.


No diving, splashing, and swimming

Onsen bathing is a tranquil and contemplative activity where individuals seek relaxation and the therapeutic benefits of the hot spring waters. Diving and splashing could disrupt the peaceful atmosphere, potentially disturbing other bathers. Additionally, swimming is not allowed, even in larger onsens with ample space. The onsen culture promotes a quiet and mindful ambiance, allowing everyone to fully immerse themselves in the soothing experience.


Respect others' privacy and personal space

Keeping your eyes in check is a fundamental aspect of onsen etiquette. Be mindful of where your gaze wanders. While occasional glances at other bathers are usually considered normal, prolonged or intentional staring is perceived as intrusive. Even if you intend to capture the furniture or views, it can still make others uncomfortable. It’s best to keep your cameras away and focus on the atmosphere.


Maintaining personal space and avoiding crowding are also essential. In the onsen, accidental contact can happen, and most people understand that it's not intentional. Simply apologize, adjust your position if necessary, and continue to enjoy the onsen experience with mindfulness and consideration for others' personal space.


Rinse off again 

After your bath, give your body another rinse in the washing area. Onsen water often contains sulfur, radium, carbon dioxide, or various salts. Rinsing post-onsen is recommended to cleanse your body of any substances that may have adhered to your skin during the soak. This additional rinse ensures you're clean before entering the locker or changing room areas, leaving the onsen with a refreshed and comfortable feeling.


Dry yourself

While it's not a strict rule, it's generally considered courteous to towel off as much excess water as possible before entering the locker area. This helps maintain cleanliness and prevents water from spreading in the changing area. Most onsens provide towels for this purpose, so using one to dry off is a common practice. If you don't have a towel, shaking off excess water outside the locker area is a considerate alternative.


Don't soak if unwell

If you're feeling unwell, have open wounds, or harbor any health concerns, it's wise to refrain from soaking in the onsen. The heat of the hot springs can potentially exacerbate certain health conditions or symptoms. For instance, the warm and communal nature of onsen bathing could expose your wounds to bacteria in the hot spring water, hindering the healing process and risking infection. If you suddenly feel lightheaded or dizzy while in the onsen, it's crucial to exit the water immediately and seek assistance. Prioritize your health, and be attuned to your body's signals.


Confirm if the onsen allow tattoo

In Japan, tattoos have long been associated with the yakuza, the country's organized crime groups. As a result, there is a lingering societal stigma surrounding tattoos, and some onsen establishments implement policies restricting individuals with tattoos from entering. The goal is often to maintain a comfortable and non-intimidating environment for all patrons. However, attitudes are gradually changing, and more onsens have become accepting of tattoos.


It's a good call to check the onsen's policies regarding tattoos on their website or contact them personally. While attitudes towards tattoos are evolving, some onsen facilities may have specific rules. Confirming in advance ensures that you're aware of any restrictions or requirements, allowing you to plan your onsen visit accordingly. It's all about keeping things smooth and hassle-free for your soaking experience.

 

Enjoying the onsen experience goes hand in hand with a mindful approach to personal well-being and consideration for others. By following these manners, you'll not only navigate the onsen experience seamlessly but also contribute to the preservation of this centuries-old Japanese tradition. If you have doubts about the onsen rules, it’s always a good idea to consult the staff as each onsen may have specific guidelines.

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