How to Enjoy Japanese Onsen

Here is how you can enjoy using Japanese onsen (温泉) or “hot springs” when you come to visit Japan.
Onsen is a wonderful part of traditional Japanese culture that are enjoyed by Japanese people of all ages. However, some foreigners might find them to be a bit intimidating, for there is a set of unspoken instructions for those wishing to enjoy the hot baths. Here is your guide to Japanese onsen!

What Are Onsen?

As defined by Japan’s Onsen Law, an onsen is any collection of hot water and water vapor that springs from the Earth either naturally or from man-made holes. The water temperature needs to be higher than 25 degrees Celsius, as well as include at least one of 19 selected minerals.

History of Onsen

Because Japan is a country with very high amounts of seismic activity, volcanoes have played a very active role in shaping the country and its landscape. Dating back to ancient times, volcanoes created hot springs that were enjoyed by Japanese people, and onsens were even included in Japanese legends and mythologies. The oldest descriptions of onsens can be traced back to the famous 7th century texts – the Kojiki, the Nihonuhoki, and the Menyoshu.


How To Use Onsen

1. Wash Your Body

Be sure to wash your body and rinse thoroughly before entering the bath. Every onsen features a washing area that includes several chairs and shower heads – and usually even shampoo and body soap – for you to use to clean yourself before entering the public bath.

2. Adjust to the Hot Water

Onsen water is very hot, so it is a good idea to prepare yourself slowly, rather than jumping right in. First, rinse your body with hot water as a warm-up before entering the onsen. Then, step into the onsen and continue to submerge yourself until half of your body is underwater. Easing into to the water like this is especially important for elderly people, or for people who have heart or lung problems. To prevent dizziness, many people keep the small provided towel on their head while they are in the water.

3. Soak Up to Your Shoulders

Finally, you can relax fully in the onsen by submerging your entire body up to your shoulders in the water. It also also recommended that you rest your head against the edge of the bathtub and let your body float freely in the water. Additionally, slowly moving your hands and feet in the water can help blood circulation, but be careful not to splash!

4. Leave Without Rinsing

Although the recommended amount of time to stay in the bath is until sweat begins to form on your forehead, you can enjoy the onsen for as long or as short as you’d like! Once you have finished, step out of the water and use your towel to dry off. There is no need to rinse off afterwards, for the onsen water contains natural minerals that will continue to benefit your skin long after you have exited the bath. Furthermore, your body will maintain the relaxing, warm temperature from the onsen, rather than just get cold again.

Onsen Manners

  1. No smartphones or cameras inside of the onsen.
  2. If you have long hair, tie it back to keep it out of the water.
  3. Do not wear swimsuits in the onsen.
  4. Typically, people with tattoos are not allowed.
  5. Dry off before heading back into the clothing/locker room area.

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