Onsen Etiquette in Japan for Foreigners

Onsen bath has long been part of the Japanese culture. It’s been said to have started some 6,000 years ago, and up to this day, hot spring baths litter across the country. By that, you could tell that the Japanese are unmatched in the world for their love of hot baths. Well, what’s not to love? A hot bath has proven to have therapeutic effects on your body. Enough reason that even foreigners wouldn’t miss it for the world. But as simple as it may seem, taking a bath in Japan is unlike any other bath. We must take heed of the protocols. Read the full article to learn about the onsen etiquette in Japan for foreigners.

This is an indoor onsen with a milky water.
the milky water of an indoor onsen
(photo from google; credits to the owner)

Onsen Etiquette

As a foreigner and a first-timer, it’s normal to panic if you have no idea what to do in a public bath. Just calm down. The rule of thumb here is to observe what others are doing. Believe me, I’ve been there, done that.

  1. Please leave your belongings in the locker.
  2. Undress before you dip. You read that right, nudity is mandatory.
  3. Scrub yourself clean first in the shower area.
  4. Don’t bring the towel inside the bath area. On the other hand, if you’re in a public bath that permits small towels or cloth inside, DO NOT dip it.
  5. Don’t make a loud noise by splashing or diving into the bath. Remember, the bath is not for swimming, it’s only for soaking.
  6. Keep your voice low if you’re with a friend or a family member.
  7. Mobile phones are heavily frowned upon. I understand that you want to take a few snapshots of the bath area to share it on your social media sites, but sorry, it’s a big NO-NO.
  8. Rinse yourself every time you move from one bath to another. This only applies if you’re in a luxurious onsen where they provide sauna and other types of baths or pools.
  9. Tattoos are taboo in Japan. Technically, someone with a tattoo is not permitted, at least in some public baths. The good news is that some are open about it nowadays. Thus, if you have one, just inform the staff. They’ll likely let you use the bath.
This is the shower area where everyone has an unobstructive view of your body. This is where you clean yourself up, one onsen etiquette in Japan that foreigners should follow.
This is the shower area where everyone has an unobstructive view of your body. This is where you clean yourself up, one onsen etiquette in Japan that foreigners should follow.
(photo from google; credits to the owner)

Of the nine onsen etiquette in Japan mentioned above, which one is the hardest for you to do?

I bet the nudity, right? It’s a daunting task to do because we’re not used to this culture. Nonetheless, if we want to experience a one of a kind adventure, being naked in the presence of strangers is a hurdle that we need to get over.

Just in case you can’t bring yourself to go naked, don’t fret. There are private baths in some hotels. In there, you can get to spend a moment of tranquility and you’ll feel at ease that you have the onsen all to yourself.

So, I hope you’re feeling less anxious, now that you know that a private bath exists. It certainly costs more than that of the public onsen, but if it means you can calm yourself into a state of trance, much more than in a public onsen, then it’s worth it.

Click this link for the list of private onsen.

All right, then, let me end this post by saying, ‘you got this!’

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