How to enjoy hot springs in Japan

tattoo and hot spring in japan

Hot Springs in Japan are called “onsen”. It literally means hot springs,  as “on” means warm and “sen” means springs.

Because Japanese archipelago forms a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where volcanos are active, chances are you find hot springs everywhere you go in Japan. Yes, even monkeys enjoy natural hot springs. (Those are not the ones humans go in by the way.)

There are total of 54,804 hot springs in Japan and all 47 prefectures have hot springs.

I strongly recommend you try getting in one of them, because it is refreshing and also is a good chance to experience the local culture.

There are a few tips for going in hot springs in Japan.

First and foremost, you cannot put on a bathing suit! You have to take off everything in the changing room and go in naked*.

Unless you are trying one of a few wild hot springs, there are normally separate baths for men and women. Sometimes it is accepted to have boys under 10 or so go in to women’s bath with their mom, but you should be mindful if your boys are tall.

My boys are 8 and 11, but they choose to go in the men’s bath by themselves. I always remind them not to swim in the bath, though.  Yes, it is not a good manner to swim in a bath unless you are the only one in the bathroom, even though it is very tempting.

Once you go in the bathroom, wash your body before going into the bath. In most cases, there is a shower head attached to the body washing area.  They normally have bottles of shampoo and body-wash, too.

After shampooing, you are expected to tie your hair if your hair is long enough to touch the surface of water in the bath.

Now (finally!) you are ready to enjoy the bath!

Some hot springs are hot, so soak your body gradually.

The bath is for soaking your body only by the way. You can’t put your towels in the tub.

You might be wondering if you could enjoy it at all, if there are so many rules you have to follow. But think of it this way. Japanese people follow these rules without even thinking they are rules. It’s similar to following the traffic lights, because going to hot springs is a part of their life.

Some hot springs have outside bathtubs. They are situated in beautiful gardens. You can soak yourself in hot tub, relax and enjoy a beautiful Japanese garden.

Hope this helps and thank you for reading. If you have any questions about going to hot springs in Japan, feel free to let me know in the comment section.

*Not comfortable being naked in front of strangers?
Then, ask for personal or family bath called “kazoku-buro”. Most inns will have a few of those. You will need to reserve the family bath when checking in. Then, they will give you a time frame for you to use the family bath. Some inns have family outside baths “Kazoku-roten” in a Japanese garden, too.

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