What You Should Know Before Going Onsen (Hot Spring) In Japan

This article is about the Japanese hot springs called Onsen. Onsen is one of the fun and relaxing activities that everyone loves in Japan! Here is what you should know about Onsen before you soak yourself in a hot tub.

What Onsen Is To Japanese

Enjoying Onsen is one of the most popular activities in Japan.
Onsen is a blessing from Japan’s unique nature. As you know Japan has many active volcanoes that have given hot springs well up in many places (Japan gets earthquakes a lot, almost too many, but it’s one of the reasons it gets hot springs continuously for such a long time).

Onsens have been loved by Japanese people so much through the ages as fun and relaxing leisure activity and medical therapy. Still, going to the Onsen is Japanese people’s favorite thing to do.

It is not common overseas, but Japanese Onsen facilities are mostly divided by sex and the participants are totally naked, washing their body in a shower facility and put themselves in a tub. There is a Japanese phrase “Hadaka No Tsukiai,” which literally means, “naked relationship” or a good, natural, and open relationship with your close friends. Not always flattering, but honesty in the relationship. Onsen is a very important part of Japanese culture for its entire recorded history.

Kinds Of Onsen In Japan

There are many varieties of Onsen in Japan. Here are some typical Onsen facilities.

We call any hot bath facilities Onsen in general, but there are slight differences. Pure Onsen has natural hot spring water in a tub. The quality, colour, and texture of water are different in each facility. There are also different efficacies in each Onsen, some relieve muscle pain, some contain ingredients to help your skin turn over and make it beautiful, and so on. It can be fun to look for one that suits your condition.

A One Day Onsen

Most Onsens are in Onsen Gai (a hot spring town) and have hotels and traditional accommodation facilities called Ryokan for at least an overnight stay. However, there are some facilities available for daily use. Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba, Tokyo and LaQua near Tokyo Dome are popular ones. These are more like amusement parks that contain tubs, restaurants, and shops, and you may wear swimsuits in there. Check the Onsen facilities in which you are interested before you go to avoid any confusion.


Sento is a public bath which doesn’t have natural hot spring water. The numbers of facilities are grdaually decreasing in town. This is a remnant from the days of Japanese houses without a tub in the past, but Sento fans still love going there to soak themselves in a large tub.

Most of Sento have a picture of Mt. Fuji on the wall (Mt. Fuji is a lucky charm to Japanese).

Chartered Bath Facilities

Not so many but there are some chartered bath facilities. Some have open-air bath attached in the hotel room, or you can reserve a whole bathroom in the hotel with an hour or two limit depending on the location.

Reservations are a must, but it is good for couples and families with little kids who don’t want troubles with strangers. Hakone, the nearest Onsen Gai from Tokyo has many accommodation facilities in this style.

Foot Bath

Foot bath is another thing you see in Onsen Gai.
Just roll your pants up and put your feet in warm water. Warmed up blood circulates in your whole body, starting with your feet, that helps sooth your entire body.

Maybe you want to wear shorts or relaxed fit pants while you are in Onsen Gai to not miss the opportunity to have a foot bath!

What Happens If You Have Tattoos?

In Japan, many Onsen facilities do not allow guests with tattoos. This is because of deeply rooted cultural taboos in Japan that associate tattoos with Yakuza (Japanese mafia) affiliation.

If you have tattoos but want to spend time in Onsen, don’t worry. There are bandages to hide your tattoos available in stores such as Don Quixote. Please stop by a store and get it before you go. Once you have your tattoos covered, you are good to go!

Manners Of Action In Onsen, Sento, And Any Other Public Bath

Once you’ve arrived in the facility, you’ll find that people do things in certain way. Let’s see how people use the facility.

Mostly blue curtains say “men” in Kanji and red curtains say “women.” Once you get through here, there’s a changing room.

There are shelves and baskets on each shelf, so choose one and put your clothes in.

Covering your clothes and underwear with a bath towel is considered good manners.

If the shelves don’t have a door and a lock, leave your valuable items in your room or use the lockers.

Once you go in to the bathroom, you’ll find bowls and chairs, so get one of each.

Find your place, put a bowl and a chair there. Rinse them before you sit on the chair and use a bowl.

When you leave, rinse them just like you do at the beginning.
Shampoo and body wash are equipped in most Onsen facilities, so no worries if you don’t bring your own. Of course you can bring your favourite shampoo, conditioner, and soap as well.

Clean yourself, and soak!
This is a very important order. You share a bathroom with the others, so wash your body and hair before soaking yourself in the tub. Please remember you cannot put towels in the tub.

After the bath, people love having cold milk. Coffee flavoured milk is the most popular drink after a relaxing bath time. Well, I personally like having beer too...but taking a hot bath drains your body fluids by sweating, so whether it’s water, beer, milk, just be sure to have something refreshing!

There are hot springs all around the world but if you are visiting Japan and seeking something unique and traditional to our culture, Onsen is the one of the experiences that you can have in Japan!

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Written by y_a_j_i

This is Yaji that was born in Nagano and living Tokyo now. I love drinking, especially Japanese sake and Japanese tapas. I will introduce many great restaurants and bars all over Tokyo!