The Complete Onsen Guide for Visitors in Japan

The Complete Onsen Guide for Visitors in Japan

With majestic palaces, picturesque national parks, and enchanting shrines, Japan has it all to lure in tourists all around the year. But there are quite some unique experiences that this island nation has to offer too!

Case in point, onsens or natural hot springs!

Numerous and highly popular across the country, these hot spring baths are just what you need to relax and rejuvenate your mind and body.

If you're planning a trip to Japan in the near future, don't pass up the opportunity to experience the bath culture there. 


Here's a detailed guide telling you everything you need to know about Japanese onsens.

Types of Onsens

Onsens are of several types, all of which provide mental and physical relaxation to bathers. Depending on the minerals dissolved in the onsen water, these springs purportedly offer different health benefits too.

Onsens are classified according to their mineral composition. Sulphur hot springs are common in the mountain regions, hydrogen carbonate hot springs are characterized by fine bubbles forming on the bather's skin, and iron hot springs are unmistakable with rust-colored water!

Apart from these, you'll find alkaline soda, chloride, boric acid, and radium hot springs in various regions across Japan. You'll also be astonished to see onsens with black, green, brown, and milky white water!


Do check out these hot springs:

  • Beppu Onsen in Oita, known for its 'Blood Pond Hell'

  • Goshiki Onsen, Nagano, where the water changes colors depending on weather and temperature

  • Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you'll get to see Japanese macaques enjoying hot water baths


Bathing Facilities

Onsens are run by the municipality or privately as part of a hotel, bed and breakfast, or ryokan, a type of traditional Japanese inn. They can be indoor or outdoor baths, the latter known as roten-buro or noten-buro. Note that onsens only use water from geothermally heated springs; indoor public bath houses, called sentō, use heated tap water.

Furthermore, most onsens have segregated baths for men and women. Konyoku or mixed-gender onsens are banned in places like Tokyo, and persist only in certain rural areas of Japan. You do have the option of reserving a private onsen for yourself!


Losing Inhibitions

Mixed-gender onsens usually restrict women from walking around the facility and entering the bath without covering up with a towel or wearing a bathing suit. However, gender segregated baths require full nudity, as it is considered unclean to enter the bath with clothes on.

While this might be uncomfortable for certain individuals, in an onsen, nudity is natural. Most importantly, no one really cares what others look like. In addition to this, you'll have a hand towel with you to cover your modesty for times when you're outside of the water! When you're in the water, there's not much anyone will be able to see.

Remember: When in Rome…


Following Etiquette

Foreigners are welcome to join in the traditional bath culture, but despite being an everyday occurrence, the routine is not to be taken lightly.

  • First and foremost, heavily tattooed individuals might not be able to make it to the bathing area in most onsens and sentōs. That's because tattoos are associated with the yakuza or mafia, and thus, taboo! So even if you manage to sneak in with your tattoos, there's a possibility that you'll be asked to leave. Consider covering up smaller tattoos with bandages or opt for a private onsen.

  • As mentioned, nudity is required inside onsens and sentōs. So place all your belongings inside the locker allotted to you. You can take your own hand towel with you, but many onsens provide towels and hand towels, so just check beforehand.

  • It is an absolute must to wash yourself thoroughly before stepping into the bath. Onsens have shower areas with stools to sit on and scrub yourself down. Don't shower or bathe while standing as you could splash water and soap onto other bathers. Take your own soap and washcloth along, or ask if the same is provided at the onsen.

  • Modesty is appreciated and expected. So once you've scrubbed yourself and rinsed off well, use your hand towel to cover your privates as you head to the bath. Lower yourself into the water slowly without making splashes.

  • Refrain from dipping your towel in the water. You can place it by the edge of the bath or balance it on your head, as most other bathers. If you drop it into the water by accident, wring it outside the bath.

  • If you have long hair, tie it up in a bun so it doesn't touch the water. Nobody wants to deal with hairballs, and for your own hygiene, it's the best thing to do. Also avoid submerging your head in the bath.



Now that you know how elaborate bathing in Japan is, we're sure you can't wait to try out this tradition for yourself. So gear up for a trip filled with memories you're sure to cherish for a lifetime.

Just keep the tips given here in mind to have all the fun you deserve!


Travel tip shared by Mattie