A quick guide to Onsen - Waku Waku

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A quick guide to Onsen

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A quick guide to Onsen

The idea of visiting an onsen may be daunting for first timers that's why knowing what to and not do before the trip is important.

Kari Minobe

Kari Minobe

Published on 28 Dec 2021, 12:00

Japanese onsen, which literally means "hot spring", is a highly recommended experience when traveling to Japan. These natural spring public baths are known for its healing properties such as improvement of blood circulation and rejuvenation of the skin.

But most foreigners are wary to jump in to the experience mainly because of the number one rule in Japanese onsen bathing naked with strangers.

My first onsen experience was before I even hit puberty, yet I was so conscious the whole time. Everyone was so calm, walking around without towels, while I hid behind my mom when we walked. But overtime, I got used to it and eventually, learned the dos and don'ts. Now, a trip to the onsen is a must whenever I visit my parents in Japan.

Here are some tips when visiting an onsen to make sure you're in for a smooth and relaxing visit:

1. Remove your shoes

As is customary in Japan, you have to leave your shoes before entering the establishment. There are usually shoe lockers or boxes by the entrance where you can place your shoes in.

The first entrance going to where the rooms are separated by gender
The first entrance going to where the rooms are separated by gender

Red is for ladies
Red is for ladies

2. Go in the right entrance

Entrances to the onsen baths are marked by noren – Japanese style door curtains. Generally, blue is for men and red is for women.

3. No cameras inside the lockers and the baths

This is pretty self-explanatory and should not come as a big surprise, given that the other guests are well, naked.

4. Dare to bare

And the rule that makes most foreigners think twice before visiting an onsen – getting naked around strangers. It may be uncomfortable at first, but keep in mind that most guests are already used to this rule so they wouldn't care. Just be respectful at all times and there won't be any problem.

A quick guide to Onsen

5. Wash yourself before getting in the baths

This is another important rule one must follow when in an onsen. Because the baths are shared, it is only appropriate to scrub yourself clean, washing off the dirt, sweat and make-up from your body, at the designated place for washing upon entry to the bath area.

You may opt to bring your own shampoo and soap, but some onsen already provide these products.

6. The small towel is your real bestie

If you didn't bring your own, there is usually a desk near the entrance to lockers where you can request towels. The small towel is used for drying yourself after your bath and before going back to the lockers. Place the towel on top of your head while soaking and make sure not to let it fall or dip in the water. Large towels are usually left inside the lockers.

7. Don't stay in too long

Despite the baths' healing properties, staying in for too long may take a toll on your body, especially if you’re not used to it yet. It is recommended to only stay 30 minutes in at a time. Take a break if you start feeling dizzy or out of breath.

Personally, I love the milk and coffee milk! A must drink after soaking in the baths
Personally, I love the milk and coffee milk! A must drink after soaking in the baths

8. Don't forget to hydrate

Make sure to keep yourself hydrated in between soaking. There are water dispensers available by the locker area. Remember that you're not supposed to drink alcohol before going in the baths. You're also not allowed to bring drinks or glasses inside the bath area.

Refresh yourself after your bath with cold milk, coffee milk or fruit milk, which are sold by vending machines, usually located just outside the locker area.

9. Tattoos

Although slowly improving over the years, tattoos are still considered to be taboos in some onsen, because of their association with Japanese mafia, or the yakuza.

You may do your research before visiting a particular onsen, or ask the staff to avoid any inconvenience. For smaller tattoos, you may cover them with waterproof bandages.

10. Enjoy the other amenities

Check out the other amenities before going home. Some onsen have rest areas where you can sit on massage chairs, a place where you can read manga or restaurants to enjoy a good meal.

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Kari Minobe

Kari Minobe

Hi, I'm a half-Japanese, kawaii-loving girl from the Philippines. In my free time, I juggle writing poetry, making art, and playing with my fur baby. I dream of traveling the world and moving to Japan permanently. But for now, I take pleasure in virtually sharing Japan's beauty and uniqueness.

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