1. What is an onsen
“Onsen” is the Japanese word for “hot springs”. Japan is abundant in hot springs and bathing facilities can be found in public baths, at hotels, ryokans (traditional inns) or spas. The most famous onsen resorts are Hakone, Yufuin, Noboribetsu, Kusatsu, Beppu, Kurokawa, Ibusuki and Arima.
2. Remove your shoes before entering the changing room
When going to an onsen, you will have to enter a changing room to take off your clothes. Never do this while wearing your shoes. The Japanese are very strict about cleanliness. You will always find some racks to put your shoes on and slippers to wear in the changing room.
3. Be sure to use the correct changing room
Mistaking the changing room and barging into the opposite sex while naked is not only embarrassing, but it could create a big fuss with the onsen owners. Always make sure you are entering the correct changing room. Even if you cannot read kanji, you can know what room to change in by the curtain color. Women’s rooms have red curtain while men’s room have blue curtains.
4. Be sure to use the correct bathing area
The same as with the changing rooms, you should always be careful to use the correct bathing area. There are three types of baths: woman only, men only and mixed.
5. You have to be clean before entering the onsen
You should never go inside the baths before taking a shower first. Even if you already took one at home, it is a matter of courtesy to take another shower before entering the onsen water. Each onsen facility provides showers with stools for each guest to use. Some onses also provide soaps and towels, but other don’t, so you should ask before going or take your own towels and soap just to be sure.
6. Do not bring extra items to the bath
All extra items should be left in the locker together with your clothes, including things like eyeglasses or mobile phones. Taking them with you and leaving them around the pool will only get into other’s way and cause problems.
7. Get used to the water before entering
Suddenly going from the air temperature to the hot water can be very uncomfortable, causing a burning sensation to the skin and putting your body into a temporary shock. This is why you should first splash some water over your lower body first, so you can get used to the water. The Japanese call this process kakeyu. Some onsens have small baths especially for doing this.
8. You have to bathe naked
When entering an onsen bath, you have to be totally naked. No swimsuits or other ways of covering the body are allowed. It might be embarrassing at first, but remember, everyone around you is naked as well – and they are all there for relaxing, not staring at each others.
9. You should not swim
Onses are traditionally places to relax and contemplate. Playing around, splashing the water and swimming is considered rude. Just soak in the water and try to enjoy the warmth.
10. Do not put your towel inside the bathtub
When at the onsen, you will be given a towel to dry your body after bathing. You should never put this towel in the water. The onsen waters are only for the human body – no textiles or other objects should go inside. You will notice that some Japanese people leave the towels close to them at the edge of the pool while others put them on their heads. Do whatever is best for you!
11. Tattoos are not allowed
It is shocking for foreigners, but persons with tattoos are most often not allowed in onsen facilities. This is because tattoos have a bad image in Japan. Having a tattoo is associated with criminals and anti-social people. Showing your tattoos will presumably make others have a bad experience while bathing, so onsen owners what to avoid this kind of situation. However, since more foreigners visiting Japan, there’s some place allow tattoos or allow tattoos of foreigners.
12. Photography is generally not allowed
Taking your camera with you to the bathing area is not allowed for two reasons. You would probably get into other’s people ways by leaving your camera on the ground, and the onsen is not a place for playing and flashing a camera.
13. Keep your voice low
Making a fuss, screaming, laughing or talking loudly is bad manners when in an onsen. You will notice that the Japanese people are quiet and usually talk in a low voice between them. As it was mentioned before, this is because the onsen is a place for relaxation.
14. Keep your hair out of the way
If you have long hair, you should be careful not to let your hair flow in the water. This is because you might disturb other people, but also because long strands of your hair might fall and float on the water, something that is very unpleasant in an onsen. Be sure to tie your hair before going in!
15. Return all excess water before returning to the locker room
After bathing, you should not go with the water dripping from you back to the changing room. Use the towel that you have to remove all the excess water. Then you can go change.
Enjoy your bath and make great memories! Have a good trip and travel!