Visiting an onsen is a uniquely Japanese experience, and the perfect solution for gaining som rest and rejuvenation. As Japan is home to a large number of volcanoes, it also boasts an abundance of natural hot springs. Over the years, these hot springs have been built into outdoor spas with astonishing views. These pools are known as onsen and they have been a staple of Japanese life for thousands of years due to the belief that the water offered natural healing qualities.
With well over 2,000 natural springs, it is said to take around 40 years to visit each onsen in Japan– that’s a lot of bathing. Today, onsen are part of the day to day life of local people. From the big bustling cities to the great outdoors, you will never be too far from an onsen. As onsen are such an important part of Japanese culture, it is important that visitors are aware of the etiquette. Though these rules may seem daunting at first, visiting an onsen really is a ‘must do’ experience and one you certainly won’t forget.
Visiting an Onsen: Etiquette
The people of Japan take their onsen experience very seriously. As the waters were once seen as sacred, the Japanese take pride in these spa-like structures and so there are a few rules that visitors need to abide to. If you wish to visit an Onsen and enter the waters, then it is important to be aware of the onsen etiquette. Though these rules may seem a little discouraging at first, visiting an onsen really is a relaxing and memorable experience.
This is probably the most important and most daunting rule for Western visitors. When entering an onsen, visitors must take off all clothing, including swimsuits. This is for hygiene reasons and lockers and baskets are usually provided. Although ascending naked into a pool with other people may sound scary, it really is normal to the Japanese.
As everyone else is naked too, you will find that no one actually cares and that it is all part of the experience. If, however, the thought of this really does frighten you, then there are a small number of onsens that are geared towards tourists which allow visitors to wear swimsuits. These are far less authentic than most local onsens but are enjoyable nonetheless.
In keeping with traditions, outdoor shoes should not be worn at an onsen. This is because they boast traditional Japanese flooring which should not be walked on with outside shoes. It is seen as disrespectful to wear shoes on these floors so make sure to take them off and put them in the racks provided.
In keeping with hygiene rules, it is a requirement to wash before entering the onsen. Most shower facilities are located outside, beside the onsen baths. No soap is allowed into the onsen so make sure to shower thoroughly. Where showers are not provided, there will be a simple bucket to use, enhancing this authentic experience.
The only material permitted into the onsen is a wash cloth. Handy for those who wish to cover sensitive areas whilst walking to the hot springs, the rule regarding these cloths is that they cannot touch the water. They can be placed beside the baths, or, do as the locals do and wear it on top of your head.