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Japanese Onsen Etiquette: Everything You Need to Know!

Anna AyvazyanAnna Ayvazyan
Published Time
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April 27, 2024
A woman at a Japanese onsen dressed in a blue yukata.

One of the most unique experiences to try in Japan is visiting an onsen. Japan’s traditional bathing experience differs significantly from what many of us experience in our home countries. Japanese onsens have specific procedures and rules that everyone is expected to follow. Here, we’ll introduce five tips to help you have a smooth Japanese onsen experience without stress!

Check which places are tattoo-friendly!

Many visitors who come to Japan are sometimes surprised to learn that tattoos have a certain negative stigma attached to them. While this negative stigma is slowly going away, it can still affect how you travel in Japan. In particular, many onsen facilities still strictly ban anyone with tattoos from entering the public baths. Some facilities allow you to enter the bath if you cover up your tattoos with a bandage. 

A bucket of water at a Japanese onsen.
Be sure to check the rules ahead of time! Image via Shutterstock

Some may also have a private onsen bath option, but it usually comes with extra costs. To avoid the stress of potentially being kicked out of the onsen facility, it is recommended that you research which places don’t mind tattoos beforehand. One onsen town known for being tattoo-friendly is Kinosaki Onsen in Hyogo. All seven of the town’s public hot springs are accessible for visitors with tattoos of any shape or size!

Follow the standard procedures for entering the onsen facility!

While thousands of onsen are in Japan, most have standard procedures for entering the facility. First, before entering the changing rooms, you must remove your shoes and change into the slippers provided. If you don’t have towels, you can rent small ones from the receptionist.

A hot spring in Beppu, Oita Prefecture.
An onsen is a hot spring. Image via Shutterstock

Next, find an empty locker where you can put all your belongings, including your clothes. Available lockers usually have a key inside the lock for you to use. When you find an empty locker, remove all clothing, including jewelry, that may come off quickly. After taking off your clothes, take a small towel with you. 

Shower before entering the bath!

In Japan, it is essential to shower before bathing. Rather than standing to shower, sitting on the seat provided and washing yourself is customary. Some shower places have shampoo and conditioner, but you can bring your own or purchase some at reception. 

An onsen shower room.
Always take a shower before entering the onsen! Image via Shutterstock

After cleaning yourself, you must ensure no soap is left on your body or hair. If you have long hair, it is customary to tie it up to avoid getting in the bath. After rinsing yourself and tying your hair, you can bathe. However, the towel should not enter the bath. You can wrap your hair with a towel or put the towel on the side of the bath. Make sure you don’t forget where you put it!

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Be courteous and mindful of other people in the bath!

When in the bath, it is important to be respectful to everyone around you. While onsen baths are typically big and deep, you should not treat them like a swimming pool. When entering the bath, check how hot the water is. If the water is boiling, it may be better to enter the bath slowly.

A woman resting in a Japanese onsen.
Always mind your manners in the bath! Image via Shutterstock

You should also refrain from talking loudly, swimming, and submerging your head. Additionally, you should exit the bath every 20 minutes to prevent dehydration or heat shock. Taking a short dip in each can be a great and fun experience if the onsen facility has multiple baths. Additionally, many onsen facilities have saunas that can help you dry off before changing your clothes. 

Enjoy a cool drink after the bath!

After bathing, you can go straight to the dressing room and put your clothes back on. If you rent a towel, there will typically be a box where you can drop it off. Most dressing rooms are also equipped with a free hairdryer.
When you are clothed and finished drying your hair, you can leave and wear your regular shoes. 

A glass of Hokkaido milk in an onsen.
A fresh, cold bottle of milk is perfect after a hot bath! Image via Shutterstock

Usually, around the entrance of the onsen faculty are several vending machines, some of which have cold milk. Drinking cold milk after bathing in a Japanese onsen is customary. It is okay if you don’t like milk or are lactose intolerant! Vending machines will have other options to choose from. Having a cold drink will help refresh your body after a hot bath.

Why should I visit a Japanese onsen?

Visiting a Japanese onsen is a great way to see another aspect of Japanese culture! Although the bathing procedures are unique, they can still be a fun experience. However, to get the most out of the bathing experience and to ensure you don’t offend anyone, it is essential to follow the proper etiquette. If you have tattoos, it is vital to check in advance to see if the onsen facility is tattoo-friendly. 

A faucet pouring water in an onsen.
Have you ever been to a Japanese onsen before? Image via Shutterstock

There are several things to remember from entering the facility to entering the bath. But if you remember the tips mentioned here, you should be fine! Afterward, you can try the post-bath tradition of drinking milk to wrap up the whole experience. Does your country have public bathhouses? What is the etiquette? Let us know in the comments below! 

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