Going to a Japanese Hot Springs (Onsen) ? Don’t Make These 15 Mistakes!
The Japanese onsen has a long history, with the first ones discovered over 3,000 years ago. They are famed for the relaxing experience and the healthy effects the minerals in the water give the skin. As such, there are many rituals and rules to follow when going to one.
Onsen-going is one of the most popular activities among foreigners visiting Japan. However, naked public bathing is a first for many, so read up on this list so you don’t end up making any awkward mistakes.
- Don’t go into the wrong changing room! Double-check which entrance you’re supposed to go in, even if you have been here before. Most onsen are separated by gender, however, many places swap the onsen rooms every day or so. Remember this: If you’re a woman, you’re supposed to go through the red entrance with 女 written on it. If you’re a guy, enter the blue one with 男.
- Don’t bring your phone or camera into the onsen area. Even if you want to snap a photo so you can brag about going there to your friends, remember that the people in the onsen will feel self-conscious and imposed upon while you’re taking pictures – even if you’re not taking pictures of them specifically. If you need to take a picture, go either very early or right before closing time and be sure to ask the staff for permission.
- Wash yourself thoroughly! Don’t go straight into the onsen. Go to the washing area and wash every inch of yourself so you don’t bring in dirt and germs into the clean bathing water. If they have any buckets (like shown in the picture above) you may fill it up and pour it over yourself.
- Tie your hair into a bun if it’s long. Humans lose between 50-150 hair strands a day so there’s a big chance of losing some while in the bath. Other bathers do not appreciate finding some stranger’s hair in their buttcrack after getting out.
- Don’t try to awkwardly hide yourself before you enter the bath. People generally respect your private space and won’t gawk at you. Going in with a swimsuit or sneaking around like a ninja will just give you more attention. Be normal.
- Return the favor: don’t stare at other bathers. This is a time to take a deep breath and relax, not to judge others.
- The small towel you get can be used for modesty while walking around. However, don’t let it touch the onsen water as the towel is considered dirty. When in the onsen, put it on your head or on the side of the bath. Use the towel to dry off before going back to the changing room.
- Don’t bring the onsen with you when you leave – wipe off with the small towel before moving to the changing room.
- Don’t faint! Drink water and stay hydrated before you go in and after finishing. Do also not drink alcohol before or during the onsen visit. It increases the chances of fainting and is being drunk in an onsen is considered to be very rude behavior. Stand up slowly from the hot baths as you might get dizzy.
- Is there a mysterious door inside the onsen room? Be careful when you open it, you might happen to find a naked ojiisan (someone your grandfather’s age) strolling around. (True story)
How to use an Onsen 101 with Kumamon! This was the first time I visited an onsen with my #worldcampusjapan host family. Side story: A friend and I were trying out all of the different baths and saunas at this onsen. Towards the end of our visit, we saw a glass door which had a lot of steam on it so we couldn't see through it. But we had seen an obaasan (granny) go there earlier so we figured it was another kind of sauna. We open the door, and lo and behold… A WILD NAKED GRAMPS APPEARS!!! 😱😨💦💦💦 He was just casually walking down a corridor, butt naked…… I'm not sure if he saw us since we closed the door with haste but that view was certainly one of the last things we expected…
- Is your period coming up? Try to reschedule the onsen date if you can. Going to a public onsen while bleeding is considered very unhygienic.
- Have any tattoos? Try to check beforehand to see if tattoos are allowed. Tattoos are associated with the Yakuza and are therefore not welcome at many onsen. This view is slowly changing as tattoos become more common but some places may be strict. If you only have a small tattoo that’s not in plain sight, there probably shouldn’t be any problems.
- No swimming. Duh.
- Don’t talk loudly with other people. Nobody wants to listen to your latest gossip.
- Some onsen recommend not washing up after the bath so that your skin receives the fullest effects of the minerals. However, you should probably wash it off regardless if you have sensitive skin.
If you manage to follow these don’ts, there’s only one thing you need to do:
Take a deep breath, breathe out, relax and simply enjoy the wonderful Japanese invention that is called onsen.
Photo credit: www.japanexperterna.se
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