Japanese onsen (温泉: hot springs) or sentō (銭湯: public baths), are are enjoyed by anyone of all ages. Onsen use hot water taken from a natural hot spring, while sentō use tap water heated by boilers. Both onsen and sentō are very enjoyable to Japanese and foreigners alike, but there is a set of unspoken instructions you should know before you go. Here is your guide to have good manners in Japanese onsen or public baths!
1. Shower First
Be sure to wash off your body 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. This is important as it keeps the onsen water clean for everyone who is using it.
2. No Smartphones
No smartphones or cameras inside of the onsen. Yes, many onsen are incredibly beautiful and picturesque, but they are private areas to be enjoyed quietly by everyone. Therefore, smartphones and cameras are strictly forbidden. Please be sure to leave your phone with your other belongings in the locker room/changing area 🙂
2. Tie/Remove Long or Loose Items
If you have long hair, it is polite to tie it back to keep it out of the water. Also, if you have long necklaces, jewelry, or watches that will dangle or possibly come off in the water, it is courtesy to take them off. Some onsen/sento facility provide a shelf to put your small belongings and toiletries once you have entered the bath area, but not all of them.
Do not wear your swimsuits in the onsen. If you are feeling shy, you can use the small towel provided to cover yourself until you get into the water. Many people put this towel on top of their head during their bath or put aside near the bath, but don’t let it fall into the water! *The below photo (wearing bath towels in the onsen) is an exception for the purpose of a photo shoot; please do not wear your bath towels in the water.
Typically, people with tattoos are not allowed. However, these days, more onsen allow people who cover their tattoos to enter. Check out our list of Japan’s top tattoo-friendly onsen here.
5. Dry Off Your Body
Once you have finished, step out of the water and use your towel to dry off. Be sure to dry off roughly before heading back into the clothing/locker room area. Dripping all over the locker room area can make it slippery and dangerous for others, especially the elderly! It is polite and considerate to all not to wet the dressing area.
How to Enjoy Japanese Public Baths: PDF Guides
Many onsen and sentō have pictographs or posters to kindly remind people to have manners, as well as to clearly explain the rules in a way that foreign tourists or even children can easily understand. Here are a couple guides you might find useful, as well as entertaining!
You can download the printable PDFs here.
A Look Inside a Japanese Onsen
Although phones are typically not allowed inside onsen, we were given a rare look inside of Totsukawa Onsen (十津川温泉) in Nara Prefecture! Check out this video below: