Onsen Etiquette | The Best Way to Enjoy Japanese Public Onsen Baths

Onsen Etiquette | The Best Way to Enjoy Japanese Public Onsen Baths

Are you taking a trip to a famous Japanese Onsen town soon? Hakone, Kusatsu, Beppu, Kurokawa, Noboribetsu, Kinosaki, Dogo, and Fuji Kawaguchiko are just a few of the most famous onsen towns in Japan. In reality, there are onsen all over Japan and no matter where you’re traveling you will probably be able to find one.

If you’re traveling in Japan, it would be beneficial to know the unwritten and complicated rules about using their world-famous onsen hot spring baths, so we created this guide.

Let’s get started!

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Written by Sakura Mobile Blog Team

Hello readers! Sakura Mobile is a SIM & WiFi service provider for international residents and tourists in Japan.

Our global editorial team living in Japan will introduce the charms of the country based on what we have actually experienced and felt.

Table of Contents

  1. What’s an onsen?
  2. Before going in
  3. The changing room
  4. Shower area
  5. Getting in the onsen
  6. Best onsen in Japan

What’s an onsen?

What’s an onsen?

Onsen is the Japanese word for hot spring. Most Japanese people know onsen as large baths with natural spring water from the ground perfect for relaxing and relieving stress from everyday life.

There are about 3,000 onsen towns and over 25,000 onsen locations throughout Japan and the Japanese have been using onsen waters for over 1,000 years. With a long history comes lots of culture and special rules to follow.

Onsen waters are known for their relaxing, healing, and moisturizing effects. If you have chronic back, shoulder, or joint pain, an onsen might be able to give you relief. We recommend that everyone try this special and traditional experience at least once in their life.

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Before going in

Before going in

Before going into a Japanese onsen bath, there are a few things that you should know.

You will be naked

You may be thinking that you don’t want others to see your private parts, and that is totally normal, even for many Japanese people. But, public onsen baths require those who enter to be naked, swimsuits and footwear are not allowed.

If it makes you feel better, everyone will be naked and there is a good chance that you may never meet the kind strangers in ever again.

You will get to take a small courtesy towel in with you, but there are special rules for that which we will explain later. If you can’t be naked around strangers, try to find an onsen that has a private rental onsen, or book a hotel or ryokan that offers private onsen attached to their rooms.

Tattoos aren’t allowed

Sadly, tattoos are banned in many onsen across Japan. Even though many tourists and foreign residents in Japan have tattoos, these rules do not target foreigners. Because of the long history of gang violence and gang members with tattoos, tattoos have been banned in most onsen, pools, sento, and gyms.

If you want to check if the onsen where you’re headed is tattoo-friendly, check this website. If it isn’t, cover up your tattoos with waterproof bandaids or find an onsen with a private rental onsen.

Drink water

Onsen waters are very hot, and sometimes, people may faint after spending a long time soaking.

Before going in, avoid drinking alcohol and make sure to drink enough water. You won’t be able to bring any drinks into the bathing area.

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The changing room

The changing room

Before going into an onsen, you’ll have to bring a few things with you.

Things to prepare when going to an onsen

  1. Large towel to dry off
  2. Small “courtesy” towel to cover up when inside
  3. (For those with long hair) Hair clips or ties

Optional

  • A yukata to change into afterward
  • your own soap and shampoo

If you’re staying at a ryokan, these things will most likely be prepared by the staff either in your room or at the front desk. In some places, it may be necessary to pay for them. If you’re just visiting an onsen for the day, you will likely have to pay for them.

Shoes are not allowed in changing rooms. Either when you walk into the onsen, or in a room before the changing room, you’ll have to take your shoes off. For a rule of thumb, if you or others are supposed to be barefoot in an area no shoes are allowed. There will be a raised platform so you know where to take your shoes off.

In the changing room, there will be baskets, lockers, or a combination of both. If you brought valuables with you (phone, wallet, watch, jewelry, rings, etc.) we recommend using a locker for added peace of mind. More traditional places will only have baskets.

When you’re done stripping down to your birthday suit, grab your small towel and head to the shower area. If you have long hair, bring hair ties and try your best not to let it touch the onsen water.

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Shower area

Shower area

Before entering the onsen water, clean yourself thoroughly in the shower area.

While you’re showering, you can choose to sit or stand. If you sit, borrow a shower chair and wash it off after you’re finished.

While showering, try your best to be courteous to those sitting around you. Don’t splash or spray others, and make sure to wash all of the soap off of your body.

If you bring your own shampoos and soaps into the shower, move them out of the way so others can use the area without worry. Theft is very rare in Japan, so you can relax without paying too close attention to your expensive products.

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Getting in the onsen

Getting in the onsen

After cleaning off you’re finally ready to get into the onsen waters.

The natural onsen waters are most likely hot, so it’s customary to rinse your body with the water from the onsen before hopping in. If there are no buckets nearby the baths, it is okay to skip this step.

Get in the onsen slowly so as not to splash or disturb others. First, soak the bottom half of your body, and then soak up to your shoulders.

Soap suds, hair, clothes, and towels are seen as unclean and not allowed in the water. Tie your hair up and rest your towel on your forehead or near where you’re relaxing.

Bathing in an onsen is a great way to bond with friends and family, but make sure that you keep your voice down. Also, try to avoid staring or looking at others (especially their private parts).

When you get out, use your small towel to dry off and head back to the changing room. It might be hard with a small towel to get completely dry, so do your best and then use your larger towel. As a rule of thumb, try not to drip in the changing room.

After putting your clothes back on have a seat, relax, and have an ice cream or drink some cold milk or water.

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Best onsen in Japan

Best onsen in Japan

Now that we know how to relax and enjoy Japanese onsen, it’s time to visit the best onsen towns all around Japan. Travel around and visit the best and most traditional Japanese towns in Japan and enjoy an onsen. Check out our guides to Atami, Tokyo, Nasu, Kusatsu, Hakone, Ikaho, Kinugawa, and Kinosaki Onsen Towns.

If you’re going to an onsen town, you may stay in a traditonal Japanese ryokan or hotel. Some of these ryokan are very old, and may not provide Wi-Fi for guests.

If you need high-speed 4G LTE data or pocket Wi-Fi on your trip to an onsen town, check out Sakura Mobile. For those who are worried about staying connected on their trip to an onsen. Read more below.

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Have you booked your SIM card or pocket WiFi for your trip to Japan yet?

In Japan, you’ll want to be connected without missing out on high speed data and internet!

By reserving online before departing, you can

  • Lower your rental fees
  • Avoid stock shortages at the airport

To learn more about data and WiFi options for your trip, check out our products below.

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