Discover Japanese Onsens: Learn What to Expect Before You Undress

May 12, 2016 Richard Rowley

Category Asia & Pacific

So you are going to Japan and are planning on visiting a traditional Japanese hot spring, also known as a onsen. You just found out, clothing is not permitted....

In Japanese culture, onsens are introduced to life at a very young age and locals don't blink twice before entering the steamy therapeutic baths. If you are not familiar with the hot spring culture, read on to discover the correct etiquette, customs and norms before taking the plunge so you are prepared with realistic expectations and truly relax. 

Japanese Hot Springs

A few facts and tips from our Japan Travel Specialists to keep in mind:

  • Onsen vs. Sento: Onsen is defined as a natural hot spring where the water originates from an organic source, has to include 1 of 19 natural minerals to be considered onsen. Sento is where the water is heated artificially (electric, wood, etc.)
  • The baths are usually gender segregated
  • If you are uncomfortable in a public onsen you can opt for a private Rotenburo. Rotenburos are open air onsens that are usually found in ryokan and the private baths are attached to your room allowing for optimum privacy.  Ask one of our Japan tours specialists for more information. 
  • Take shower with soap and shampoo before entering (rinse first! No soap permitted in onsens)
  • Stay hydrated and it is advised not to drink alcohol 
  • Keep your hair pulled back
  • Tattoos can be problematic in public onsens as they are associated with organized crime (yakuza). If you can cover up with bandage, do so (no clothing allowed though). If not, request private onsen. 
  • Don’t stay in an onsen to long. Start with 5 minutes and work your way up.
  • If you are pregnant: Check with your doctor, as it is advised not to stay too long in onsen (no longer the 5 minutes at a time).
  • Winter is one of our favorite times to visit an onsen as you can enjoy the hot spring's warm water and natural elements in the snow. 
  • If you like a lot of options and want to experience different baths and saunas, check out a SuperSento where the pools are known to be electrically pulsed, infused with aloe or even Royal Jelly. 

Below, is a useful, step by step guide on how to enjoy an onsen. This illustration shows proper manners and procedures prior and during your onsen experience. 




Now You are Ready for Your Onsen Experience

Onsens are easy to navigate once you have the right expectations. If you would prefer a private onsen experience, let us know and we can provide very comfortable options throughout Japan. 

One of our favorite private onsen experiences is at the Yamanochaya Ryokan located in the thermal bath hub of Hakone. This Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn) is home to a beautiful natural hot spring and the meals at the ryokan are superb, featuring seasonal ingredients and local specialties and are served to you in your room by Kimono-clad staff. See how you can incorporate Hakoke on  Japan tours.

Onsens are a pivotal part of Japanese culture and are a great way to soak up your own experience while visiting the Land of the Rising Sun. Either in private or public baths, take  a dip and enjoy a relaxing ambiance of zen and tranquility. 


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 Infographic from TripGraphics TripAdvisor Japan

Tags: Asia & Pacific