Japanese business culture is devoted to hard work and long hours. As a result, relaxation time is something to be considered essential.
This is where the onsen comes into play.
Onsens are natural hot mineral baths heated by volcanic activity in Japan. They are thought to be very therapeutic with natural restorative properties.
So at the end of a long day or to spend your weekend the right way, many people come to these public bath houses to unwind.
However most gaijin (foreigners) are not too keen at the idea of communal bathing. But to the Japanese, it’s a traditional part of their culture.
Here are some tips I learned from my first experience at an onsen:
1. Birthdaysuits only
Yes, you are completely naked in the bathing area and it’s completely okay. Once you figure out that no person has any sort of self consciousness or judgement towards another, the feeling is complete liberation.
2. Shower before you bathe
Before the hot spring you’ll walk through a row of shower cubbies with little stools to sit and wash yourself. Shampoo, conditioner and body wash is provided and smells wonderful so take advantage of the accommodation.
Also, you are expected to sit down while you wash. It’s considered bad manners to stand and you may accidentally splash the person next to you.
Most importantly, washing yourself in the bath is considered very gross so don’t skip this step or you may get some odd glances.
3. Leave your big towel in the lockerroom
The Japanese leave their clothes and big towel in the lockeroom area. What you can bring (if you want) is a small wash cloth for shower purposes and to cover your private area on the walk to the bath. But it’s by no means required.
If you do bring one, avoid getting it wet in the bath. You might notice people carrying the cloth on their heads. It’s pretty common.
4. Don’t dunk your head in the water
Keep your hair up and your face out of the water. Although the bath should be very clean due to the cleanly practice everyone partakes in, you can risk infection the hot water may carry.
5. No tattoos
Even though today’s modern culture includes a lot of tattoo art, people with tattoos are not allowed at onsens because of the association of tattoos with gang/mafia affiliation.
That’s the rule. Sorry tattoo’d friends!
More than just the hotspring, onsen’s may offer different areas to experience such as a nap room, a reading room with a collection of manga and free coffee, as well as a cafe/restaurant and spa features like massages and facials (extra charge).
I chose to spend my time in the nap room and then moved to the reading room checking out the different content and typing out this blog because of my strong desire to share my experience 😀
Here’s a picture of the very inviting pamphlet: