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Enjoy Japanese Public Bathing with the proper Etiquette

By March 6, 2016October 27th, 2020No Comments

Public Bathing at a Japanese Onsen

Some readers may already ask themselves right now, what’s an Onsen anyway? When you are organizing your trip to Japan, many people will probably recommend you to experience one of the most traditional activities in the Japanese archipelago: public bathing.

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Proper etiquette at an Onsen, a traditional activity in Japan is very important

Onsen and Sento. . . What’s the Difference?

With bathing I do not refer to your run-of-the-mill bath or shower, but a hot spring or local public bath where you can have a revitalizing shower and enjoy the hot waters after a hard day’s work. When the hot water of these springs has a natural original (geothermal), they are called Onsen, and when the water is heated by caldrons (or with firewood in the most traditional cases), they are called Sento. Depending on the city you visit, you will find more of one than one of the other as there will generally be more Sento in a metropolis while Onsen are mostly located in the touristic and rural areas. Some onsen are even clustered together around high quality natural thermal water sources.

Considering the mountainous landscape of Japan, such hot spring are abound and the Japanese enjoy the benefits of these waters containing unique salts and minerals. They also became centers of social exchange yet in modern times as people prefer taking a showers in the private of their own home places such as these ave started disappearing from Japan’s streets. Luckily, the most beautiful Onsen still survive due to the fact that they have become part of some kind of hotel.

Proper Onsen Ettiquette

Now that you are well-acquainted with the concept of public bathing In Japan, let us take a look at the proper etiquette when visiting an Onsen or Sento. Since they are very traditional places, there may not be any signage about what to do and what not to do, so it is best to be well-informed in advance of etiquette just to be safe.

Proper etiquette at an Onsen, a traditional activity in Japan is very important

Finding a public bathing facility is quite easy, just look out for the half length curtain with the specific sign or ゆ o ♨ meaning “hot water”.

tattoos are not allowed at most Onsen in Japan as a rule of etiquette

Watch Out for Tattoos

The first thing you should be made aware of about Onsen etiquette is that some of these places are uncomfortable with admitting people that have any tattoos on their body, meaning that they may choose to reject you if your tattoo is too big enough or includes a topics which is considered a taboo in Japanese society.

Proper etiquette at an Onsen, a traditional activity in Japan is very important

Men’s and Women’s Baths

These Onsen bathing places are divided by gender and there are lockers in the lobby (zone named genkan) where you keep your footwear. In some Onsen with the aforementioned hotel setup, you will also be able to rent a private bathing area that you can share with anybody you like. Upon entering, you will see a high display where you will pay for using the Sento and can get whatever you forgot to take with you (you have to use a small towel to scrub your body instead of a sponge). Afterwards you go through another doorstep into the dressing room where you can leave your remaining clothing and belongings.

Proper etiquette at an Onsen in Japan includes washing your body before entering the baths

Shower First

It is really important to realize that you will be completely nude, although it is a habit to cover your genitals with the little towel, inside an Onsen so the experience may be a little bit challenging for some tourists. Once inside, the mandatory etiquette to first take a showers that may seem a bit low at first but it is actually used while being seated on a small stool. When entering the hot water springs, you are truly in shared place which means you should not bring the towel you scrubbed yourself with under the shower or have any remains of soap or shampoo on your body. In some Onsen, there is also a cold water spring where you can go to for a change of temperatures to ensure good cardiac and blood circulation.

Time for a Relaxing Sauna

Additionally, some Sento offer a wet and dry sauna to improve the comforting experience. Do remember to shower of any sweat on your body before you get back into the bath. Once you have left the bathing and springs area you can dry yourself up so you don’t wet or soak the dressing room floor, which is usually made of a material called tatami. Some establishments offer the use of massage sofas for a small fee, or have a variety of snacks and beverages lined up to enjoy before taking your leave.

With the right bathing etiquette in mind you are now all set to enjoy the uniqueness of experiencing the slowly disappearing practice of public bathing in Japan. Enjoy!

Jose I. Espindola

Jose I. Espindola

Born in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and currently living in Shanghai since 2012, Jose I. Espindola has visited Japan several times in these years. He had publish 2 fiction works: "Canton Orwell. Catalog." (Augenblick Editors, 2010) and "Canton Orwell. Chromosomes." (idem., 2015). In these days he is working on his 3rd book (Canton Orwell. The book of the tears) that will be published by the end of 2016. He spend some years at Law School, but them moved to something more artistic (Film Direction & Music Production). Soon will visit Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo and Okinawa, so stay tuned for more reviews.

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