Onsens are a Japanese tradition, the oldest one is said to have been operating some 1300 years ago. They come in all shapes and sizes, indoor or outdoor, public or private, men’s and women’s or mixed. It is believed the natural spring water that is volcanically heated, can cure an endless list of conditions including rheumatism, gout, anaemia, physical weakness, chronic gynaecological diseases, gastrointestinal disease, fatty liver disease plus a bunch of medical conditions. Your bathing experience will vary depending on the onsen you visit. Some have superior changing and washing areas, others have stunning views. There is certainly an art to the process so check out our guide to avoid embarrassment.
First of all, check you are heading into the correct room, men’s or women’s. Heading into the incorrect one can get you arrested. Men’s normally will have a blue curtain and women’s a red. After leaving your modesty at the door, slip your shoes off. Onsens always have traditional tatami flooring of which you only walk on bare feet or with socks. As you enter the baths there is usually an open changing area. Rip your gear off so you are completely starkers and head over to the wash area with nothing more than your wash cloth which is the size of a face washer.
Washing yourself with soap and warm water is very important so lather up and give yourself a good scrub. Some onsens have showers, most are traditional and have a small foot like stool for you to sit on with a bucket of water to wash yourself with. Be sure to rinse all the soap off.
Place your towel, aka the face washer on the top of your head and walk on over to the bath. The wash cloth should not enter the onsen water. Enter the bath slowly, you should never splash, dive or swim in the onsen. The water can be very hot, up to 40 degrees so submerge yourself up to your shoulders or chest only. While your bathing for an ideal time of 10-20 minutes massage the soles of your feet and palms of your hands and do some simple stretches.
Once you have finished bathing, do not rinse off, just dry yourself with a towel. That will allow the minerals from the hot spring to penetrate your skin. You can poor cold water over your lower legs and ankles to restore normal blood flow and refresh yourself.
Given that you have done a lot of sweating, be sure to rehydrate with water or weak tea. After you stop sweating, apply moisturiser to lock in the moisture after bathing.
So, there you go. That is the art of getting nude and bathing with a bunch of strangers.
All onsens are different and have different rules. One rule that is across the board is that you cannot enter an onsen if you have a tattoo. If you do have tattoo can you still enjoy the experience at a ryokan or hotel that have private baths as there is no chance that somebody will see your tattoo.
If you are planning on visiting an onsen on your next skiing holiday in Japan and have some questions about onsens, contact us today.