The Onsen Guide: Etiquette Tips To Onsens In Japan

The Onsen Guide: Etiquette Tips To Onsens In Japan

The Onsen Guide: Etiquette Tips To Onsens In Japan

Enjoy a serene day in Japan with a visit to an onsen. To ensure you have the most enjoyable and soothing hot spring experience, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind.

Visiting an onsen, the celebrated natural hot springs of Japan, is a highlight for many travelers. The waters are famed for their relaxing and restorative properties. Let go of any hesitations and ready yourself for a nurturing, rejuvenating soak.


Onsen in Japan


Experience the Charm of Japanese Onsens and Sentos

An onsen is not just a hot spring; it's a cherished escape that captivates both visitors and locals. These springs are comfortably warm, usually over 25° Celsius, and enriched with minerals like sodium chloride, sulfur, lithium, and iron. Naturally occurring springs are termed tennen onsen , offering a genuine touch of nature's warmth. Those created through human ingenuity are known as jinko-onsen , crafted to mimic the natural conditions.

In contrast, a sento is a public bathhouse where the water, heated via taps, provides a communal space for relaxation and socializing, especially in urban settings. These facilities are central to daily life in many cities, offering a place for relaxation and interaction.

Visiting these facilities offers a delightful insight into a deeply rooted aspect of Japanese culture, making it a must-try experience during your stay.


Natural onsen in Japan


Exploring Different Onsen Options in Japan

As you journey across Japan, you'll find various types of onsens, each offering unique ways to relax and rejuvenate.

Day-Use Onsens

Day-use onsens offer the public a chance to experience the rejuvenating waters without an overnight stay. You can either book ahead or drop in for a spontaneous soak. Entry fees vary widely, typically ranging from JPY 300 to 2000 (approximately $3 to $20), depending on the facility's size and the amenities offered.

It's a good idea to bring your own towels, though some places provide them. Remember to cleanse yourself thoroughly before entering the bath for a hygienic and respectful visit.

For those who prefer not to fully submerge in the onsen or who might feel a bit reserved about the traditional onsen bath, the Ashiyu, or foot bath, is an excellent alternative.

These smaller pools, which are often free, allow you to soak your feet in hot spring water and are commonly found in or near hot spring towns. They provide a relaxing way to ease your muscles and unwind without a full dip.


Public Bathing


Exclusive Onsen Options for Hotel and Ryokan Guests

Many traditional Japanese inns, known as ryokans, and some hotels feature their own onsens, accessible exclusively to guests who stay overnight. However, certain establishments also accommodate day visitors.

Varieties of Onsen Experiences in Hotels and Ryokans:

  • Public Onsens: These are expansive communal baths, typically segregated by gender, available at no extra cost to overnight guests.

  • Private Onsens: For a more secluded experience, these onsens require advance booking and may involve an additional fee.

  • In-Room Onsens: Some accommodations offer the luxury of a private open-air bath or onsen tub right in your room, which generally costs more due to high demand and the exclusivity of the amenity.


Private Onsen


The Tradition of Toji:

Toji, or the therapeutic hot water cure, is a time-honored Japanese tradition of healing through bathing in onsens. Practiced for centuries, this ritual involves an extended stay in a ryokan with access to mineral-rich hot springs, allowing the body to absorb the substantial health benefits of the waters.

Health Benefits of Onsen Baths

Enhancing Circulation with Onsen Waters

Rich in natural minerals, onsen waters facilitate the absorption of elements that elevate oxygen levels in your bloodstream, thereby improving circulation.

Stress Reduction Through Thermal Bathing

Submerging in the warm waters of an onsen is a wonderful way to ease muscle tension. The serene ambiance surrounding many onsens also contributes to mental clarity, leading to better sleep after a soothing soak.

Alleviating Joint and Muscle Pain

The buoyant properties of onsen waters offer a gentle relief for sore joints, allowing your muscles to unwind and recover without any strain. This soothing effect also reduces tension, stress, and anxiety, providing notable pain relief.

Improving Skin Health and Appearance

Onsens are renowned for their skin-enhancing qualities. Waters rich in silica help to smooth and soften dry, rough skin. For those dealing with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, onsens containing sulfur are particularly beneficial, as they help soothe itchiness and promote healing.


Enjoy hot spring


Tips for Your First Onsen Visit

If you're planning your first onsen visit, there's no need for worry. Just remember these simple guidelines to ensure a wonderful visit:

Onsen Fees

Entry fees for onsens vary, typically ranging from JPY 200 to 2,000. Many popular onsens have fees between JPY 400 and 800. You may bring your own bath towel, though some facilities also offer towel rentals or provide them as part of the service.

Preparing for Your Stay at a Ryokan

When staying at a traditional Japanese-style inn, known as a Ryokan, you'll be provided with a yukata. This light, kimono-style cotton garment is ideal for wearing after a bath, as pajamas, or for lounging around the inn.

Typically, yukatas are found in your room or available at the reception. Along with the yukata, an obi (a belt) and towels for washing and drying are also provided. While Japan is renowned for its safety, it's wise to leave valuables at home instead of storing them in the bathing area cubbies.


Onsen series yukata and towel


Guiding Changing Areas

In the changing rooms, you'll find combs, hairdryers, and other essentials free for your use. Personal belongings can be stored in baskets placed in cubbies or lockers. An upside-down basket indicates it is clean and ready for use.


Guiding Changing Areas


Enjoying Onsen Bathing Areas

Onsens typically feature separate bathing areas for men and women. In facilities accommodating both genders, the access might be scheduled at different times. It’s important to check the specific times to ensure you visit during the right hours.

Generally, bathing suits are not worn in onsens. However, it’s a good idea to confirm the rules as some mixed-gender onsens may allow cover-ups. If you’re self-conscious, you can use an onsen towel for privacy before stepping into the water. Caution is advised while walking, as the mineral-rich floors can be slick.

Many onsens boast baths with distinct mineral properties. Feel free to experience each one, noting that there may be an additional charge for some. There’s no need to shower before switching baths, but ensure only your body touches the water. You can place your hand towel beside the bath or rest it on your head.


Onsen Entrace Bathing Area


Guidelines for Onsen Visits

Before entering an onsen, it's important to shower and clean yourself thoroughly. Most onsens provide soap and shampoo, but you might need to purchase these at some locations. Avoid eating just before a bath, but make sure to hydrate well before and after your soak to maintain good health.

Limit your time in the water to prevent dehydration. While onsens are soothing and beneficial, it's wise not to enter more than three times in a day.

Be aware that some onsens still restrict tattooed visitors due to traditional associations with the yakuza. However, certain places are more lenient now, so it's a good idea to inquire in advance. You may need to cover your tattoos or, in some cases, you might not be allowed to enter.

When bathing with friends, feel free to converse but remember to keep your voice low to respect other guests. Activities like diving and swimming are not allowed, and you should also refrain from taking photos, as this is usually prohibited.

Post-Onsen Care and Delights

After soaking in the onsen, resist the urge to immediately shower. Letting the mineral-rich water linger on your skin maximizes its benefits. Alternatively, a cool rinse can be refreshing and offers its own advantages.

Many onsens feature lounges equipped with massage chairs and rest areas where you can unwind further.

Refreshments and Snacks at the Onsen

Following your bath, indulge in a chilled Japanese beverage like furutsu gyuunyuu (fruit milk) or koohii gyuunyuu (coffee milk). Treat yourself to onsen tamago, eggs gently cooked in the steam and water of the onsen. Some locations even offer bottled onsen water, known for its rich mineral content.

To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of water, tea, or sports drinks after your bath. It’s best to steer clear of alcohol as it can increase dehydration.


Onsen Tamago


Must-Visit Onsens and Onsen Towns Near Tokyo

As you explore Japan, consider adding these renowned onsens and onsen towns to your travel plans:

Near Tokyo
  • Hakone: This area is famous for its 17 distinguished spas, each providing exceptional thermal waters.

  • Atami: Popular among couples, this town is celebrated for its invigorating saltwater hot springs.

  • Kinugawa: A fun-filled destination, Kinugawa combines the relaxation of onsens with the excitement of theme parks and entertainment.

  • Yunishigawa: This quaint town is renowned for its Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival during the winter months.

  • Nikko Yumoto: Famous for its spontaneous hot springs, this town offers a naturally warm welcome to its visitors.


Nikko Yumoto Onsen Area


Near Osaka
  • Kinosaki: This picturesque town, set along a river adorned with willow trees, offers a step back in time with its traditional charm.

  • Arima: A favored destination featuring two special types of thermal water.

  • Yunohana: Known for its natural bath salts, this onsen provides a purifying soak.

  • Shirahama: Recognized as one of Japan's three ancient hot springs, it invites a deep connection with history.


Shirahama Marine Leisure


Near Hokkaido
  • Noboribetsu: This onsen town is celebrated for its nine different water types, including sulfur-rich springs, perfect for a healing retreat.

  • Jozankei: A well-loved getaway from Sapporo, Jozankei is home to numerous ryokans that offer a peaceful escape.

  • Lake Toya: Nestled at the base of Mount Usu, this popular resort town is ideal for those looking to unwind in nature's lap.