How To Use A Japanese Onsen

Etiquette and manners are a big topic in Japan and we’ve already told you about the things you should avoid while travelling. But there are even more precise rules for different Japanese activities and today we want to introduce you to more of them: the rules of Japanese onsen.

For those of you that don’t know, onsen is the name for hot springs in Japan and they are one of the favorite pastimes of the Japanese. Not only do you get a chance to relax your mind and your body, but also chat with your friends. In order for everyone to have a good time, there are certain rules or guidelines you’re expected to follow.

If you plan to visit an onsen on your next trip to Japan then pay attention and take good notes. Enjoy!

1. Undress

Onsen changing room

The first step of entering an onsen should be pretty obvious: take off your clothes. But this step might already be harder than you’d expect.

First of all, make you sure that you enter the correct changing room. Men and women undress separately and should enter the rooms assigned to them. Even if you cannot read Japanese kanji the signs should be easy to understand – and if you are really in doubt just check to see where your respective sex enters. Once you’ve undressed completely make sure to keep your belongings together as well as neatly folded. They are usually stored inside an open shelf, but there might be lockers available to keep your valuables safe.


2. Take a shower

Onsen shower

After you’ve undressed and wrapped your body in a towel it’s time to take a shower. After all, you share the hot onsen water with everyone so you want to make sure that your body is as clean as possible.

Small stools are usually provided and you are free to take one and sit down on it as you wash your body and hair. Make sure to clean your body while not spraying water on the people walking past you. Most importantly, rinse yourself off thoroughly once you are done. Others won’t appreciate it if you carry remnants of shampoo or body lotion into the clean onsen.


3. Keep the water clean

Onsen water

This point goes hand in hand with the previous one. Under all circumstances, keep the water as clean as possible.

On top of cleaning your body beforehand this also means that you should keep any items out of the water. No indoor shoes, towels or other objects are supposed to enter the water. Also, if you have long hair, put it into a ponytail or a high bun so that no loose strands will touch the onsen. Onsen are shared with a high number of people, that’s why everyone should do their best to leave them as clean as possible.


4. Don’t disturb others

Onsen people

We’ve already mentioned this point in our general guide about Japanese etiquette, but it definitely also applies to onsen: do not disturb the people surrounding you.

Even though onsen are great places to go with friends or family and catch up on recent news, please do so in a reasonable tone. Don’t start screaming or laughing too loudly as that might disturb people who want to relax. Also, respect the personal space of the people around you and don’t get too close unless you really have to. Lastly, don’t run inside the building; not only will it disturb others, but also put you at a personal risk.


5. Enjoy yourself

Onsen relax

Last but not least: enjoy yourself. After all, onsen are there to relax and unwind after a long day.

Of course it is important to follow guidelines, keep the place clean and respect the privacy of others. But in the end, you visit an onsen to take a break from the craze of everyday life. Especially if you are a foreigner and are afraid to make mistakes, keep this “rule” in mind. As always, Japanese people will be more than happy to help you out and as long as you try to respect the local culture you will have a good time.

Even though hot springs are not exclusive to Japan, the Japanese onsen experience is unique in itself. In a culture where you’re expected to always give 100%, people still manage to find a way to relax and enjoy themselves at the end of the day. You definitely shouldn’t miss out on visiting an onsen if you ever make it to Japan – it will make for an unforgettable experience.

Have you ever visited a Japanese onsen or are you not a fan of the hot springs? Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.

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