Have any of you guys experienced a Japanese onsen (hot spring) before? Obviously, Japan is world renown for its hot springs, and so it’s super easy to find onsen all over Japan, but if you plan on visiting one yourself, you’ll need to differentiate between onsen and sento (public bathing houses). They’re easy to mix up and both are completely different! While sento are meant for washing your body, an onsen tends to focus on relaxation.
Before you visit an onsen, you should know that there’s a certain etiquette you’ll have to follow. It can lead to a pretty embarrassing situation if you’re caught with your pants down (literally) at an onsen, so we’ve put together a quick and easy list to give you the low-down before your next trip to Japan.
1. No swimsuit allowed!
While enjoying an onsen, you will not be allowed to wear anything. It may seem embarrassing to westerners, but in Japan no one will bat an eye. If you’re still feeling bashful, you can always use one of the small provided towels to cover up.
2. Make sure to wash your body first!
It's customary to wash your body first before entering the onsen. The hotsprings of an onsen are meant for soaking and relaxing - not for washing! Use the provided showers to thoroughly wash yourself before entering the relaxing warm water. It’s a common courtesy for everyone else enjoying the onsen, so make sure not to forget this one!
3. Return all the washing tools you use!
Remember that you’re in a public place, so each item that you use needs to be returned to its original spot for others to use as needed. If you’re not sure where to return something, it’s always a good idea to watch out for what others are doing and follow their lead! Don’t be afraid to ask, either.
4. Keep the volume down!
An onsen is a place to relax your mind and body, and so naturally, conversations should be kept quiet. In Japan, it’s super important to be mindful of the atmosphere around you. If others are chatting, it’s totally okay, but if everyone around you is enjoying a silent soak, it’s probably best to keep the chit chat to a minimum.
5. No swimming!
This one should probably go without saying, but no, the onsen is not a swimming pool. So don’t swim! ‘Nuff said!
6. Don't bring your towel and hair into the water
An onsen is a communal place. While your personal towel may seem clean after you’ve washed up, it can be full of bacteria or other nasty things - like your hair - that others don’t want to bathe in. While many locals will wrap a towel around their heads, you’ll notice the towels themselves are never dipped into the onsen’s water, and their head’s never go under either. Be sure to follow suit!
7. Don't bring extra items into the bathtub
The only thing you should be bringing into the onsen itself is you, your towel, and often, your provided locker key - which is usually attached to a waterproof bracelet. Everything else should be left in your locker!
9. Dry off before entering the locker room.
When you’re all done bathing in the springs, and it’s time to get changed back into your clothes, before to wipe yourself down with your towel before entering the locker rooms. No one wants to get their socks wet from all the water dripping from your body, so be sure to take this into consideration before going back into the locker room.
This may seem like a lot to keep in mind, but really - most of these points are common sense, so don’t worry too much, and enjoy your onsen experience!