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6 Essential Manners You Need To Know When Visiting An Onsen In Japan

February 17, 2020

First thing first, what is an onsen?

Onsen is thermal communal bathing that is a beloved part of the traditional Japanese culture because of the volcanic geography that Japanese lie on. The onsen water has been believed to have a multitude of healing properties and is packed full of minerals that are thought to be good for your skin, circulation and general health. There is nothing more relaxing and therapeutic than lying back in a hot bath after a long day- especially when you’re surrounded by falling snow, on a beach, overlooking a beautiful mountain view, or listening to a river rushing past.

Traditionally you enter the public bath totally naked. In general, man and women have a separate public bath, changing and washing area but many hotels have private onsen, which is perfect for families or couples who want to enjoy the experience together while some mixed-gender public bath will require you to wear swimwear.

1. Tattoos are taboo

In Japan, tattoo (also called Ire-Zumi) is a symbol of gang and triad members.

In Japan, tattoos are also called “Ire-Zumi” and they have been symbols of gangsters (largely associated with Yakuza Syndicated crome groups) since the Edo Period. Lately, it is getting more popular for young people to get tattoos as a fashion statement, but there are still many onsens and sentoes that refuse people with tattoos to use their facilities. Or they may ask you to hide your tattoos with a Band-Aid or things of that nature, so it is better to make sure before you make your trip.

2. Remove your shoes

Japanese people take dirty shoes very seriously. Shoes are strictly not to be worn at homes and traditional Japanese flooring (tatmi).
Onsens have traditional Japanese floors (tatami) in the changing rooms, therefore, shoes are not allowed.

3. Clothing is not allowed in onsen

Almost all onsen are nude only (exceptions exist). The only thing you can bring with you into the onsen is a small washcloth.

4. Shower first

It is an essential manner to shower head to toe with buckets on little stools before you immerse yourself into the onsen. If you have long hair, always remember to bring a hairband or to wrap your hair in a small towel.

5. Put the towel on your head

The washcloth shouldn’t enter the onsen water. Many people place the towel off to the side of the bath beside them. Real onsen pros balance the towel on their head.

6. Keep quiet

Onsens are a place for people to relax and meditate, so keep chatting to a minimal volume, don’t whip out your phone and video chat your friends or start snapping 100 selfies.

Best time to go for onsen in Japan is winter when you have a chance to soak up all the mineral and nutrient from the natural hot spring and meditate with the adorable snow monkeys! - Helen, Founder of Links Travel & Tours

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