How to onsen in Japan

So you’re going to Japan and you’re dying to try out an onsen, but feeling nervous at the prospect? Then read on!
There’s plenty of options for the more reserved but I’d highly recommend baring all and taking the plunge at a traditional onsen to get the real experience. It’s easy when you know how, and nowhere near as scary.

Some of the onsen we visited were in spectacular surroundings, such as nestled next to a river, or overlooking the mountains. This is nature at it’s finest.

Generally onsen in Japan are gender separated. Occasionally they allow mixed bathing, and very often at certain onsen resorts you can reserve an onsen all to yourself.
The general etiquette is the same wherever you go:

1. Remove all clothing in the changing facilities. These are nearly always gender separated. Usually there is a basket or a locker for you to leave your things in. Leave valuables at home and remove jewellery as the chemicals can alter their colour.

2. Enter the onsen area carrying with you only a small ‘modesty’ towel to cover up vital body parts!

3. Locate the washing area, which usually consists of a tiny wooden stool, a bucket and some soap. Occasionally there will be a shower-head, especially if indoors. Wash all over before heading to the onsen.

4. Enter the onsen slowly, allowing time for your body to adjust to the temperature. Don’t put your towel into the water, instead leave it at the side or wrap it round your head.

5. Enjoy! Let the cares of the world melt away as you relax in the hot water. Try to remain quiet and respectful as laughing loudly or shouting will not be well received. It’s generally not advised to stay in the water for more than twenty minutes at a time.

6. On leaving the onsen try to dry yourself a little, at least so that you’re not dripping wet when you enter the changing room. There’s no need to rinse your skin after as you will be washing away the beneficial minerals.


TOP TIP: as well as the smaller towel, take a larger towel into the changing room for drying and a bottle of water. It is not acceptable to take photos of onsen when others are bathing for obvious reasons. However, I did sneak my camera into the changing room a couple of times on the off chance that I would be alone and it paid off!

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