Onsen: A Short Guide on Good Manners   温泉のマナー

Date of publication :
ryokan onsen

Often ryokan have a rotenburo, an outdoor onsen.

The onsen and the sento are generally as follows: a row of boxes for the shower, turning their backs to the bath itself.

Japanese Bath Etiquette

Some onsen provide baskets for your clothes and belongings

Onsen Etiquette

Onsen (hot springs) and sento (public baths) are places in which to relax. They are true microcosms, complete with specific rules of conduct. So as not to spoil your pleasure or that of your bath companions, here are a few tips.

Get your bath right

Men and women are separated. The bath for men is indicated by the character 男 (otoko) - usually in blue, and that of women using the character 女 (onna) - usually in pink or red. Be careful not to confuse the two! Mixed baths do exist, however they are rare. They are generally only frequented by friendly older people.

Entering the onsen

You remove your clothes in a common dressing room. No need to worry, there are baskets or lockers provided to store them in. You enter the bathroom with a towel, without running, making sure your hair is tied up if it's long. Please note, tattoos are not generally welcome in any onsen. Remember to ask before entering.

No diving

The baths are too shallow for it, anyway! Before entering the bath, you must shower thoroughly. Rows of taps and shower heads with mirrors are provided for it. The showers have a stool which you can sit on, with a bucket for rinsing. Lather yourself well, wash your hair and body and make sure you're thoroughly clean: the bath water is supposed to stay clean for all.

Relax

It's better to enter the bath slowly, as the water is usually very hot. Beware of getting light-headed! You don't need to stay long, five minutes is plenty of time if that's all you can manage. You'll then have more time to take another shower and return to the bath, or try the rotemburo, the outside bath.

Being comfortable with nudity

Don't take your towel into the bath, you have to be nude. As a foreigner, you will probably attract some polite curiosity. If you really have trouble with nudity (yours or others), rent a private bath. This is convenient if you are travelling with children, but much more expensive.

Leaving the onsen

At the end, there's nothing left to do but leave. You can use the hair dryers and various beauty products if on offer. Take your clothes - or your yukata - from your locker and don't forget to moisturise! Drinks vending machines are always located near the entrance, or near massage chairs. The Japanese often like to drink milk after bathing in an onsen. Now you have the knowledge to take on a Japanese bath!

Comments Read comments from our travellers

Japanophile

I lived in Japan from 1977-1984 and then continued traveling on business until around 1990. My very first apartment did not have a bath so I used the "sento" in my neighborhood in Shimokitazawa. Can you imagine the shock when a little kid saw me, a red haired foreigner for the first time? He screamed Godzilla! I was laughing uncontrollably. The poor kid probably never saw a cartoon with a foreign face.