Anyone visiting Japan for the first time absolutely must experience a traditional Japanese onsen. Throughout Japan, you may find a variety of traditional, original bath houses that each have their own unique take on the art of relaxation and rejuvenation.
In Japan, visiting a bathhouse is a great way to unwind and rejuvenate. There are spa resorts that have been around for decades or even centuries and offer state-of-the-art facilities and services. There are also more traditional hotels that have been passed down from one generation to the next.
A quick trip to the Japanese onsen is obligatory whenever there is a forecast of rainy or chilly weather. It’s the perfect place to relax and let your mind wander while you wait for that much-needed break.
Premium onsen locations may cost more than you’d like to spend, but the heavenly warmth of the water will provide some much-needed relief for your body and mind.
Visiting an Onsen: Do’s and Don’ts
Visitors to the resort who have never visited a Japanese bath house before should keep in mind a few guidelines designed to maintain peace and quiet.
As a first rule, please take off your shoes at the door. Nearly all onsens have dedicated luggage storage facilities at the front desk. Traditional wooden clogs or slippers are required footwear at the vast majority of onsens.
It’s also important to keep in mind that practically all onsens offer separate tubs for men and women. It would be a bit of a stretch to include a trip to an onsen in a romantic vacation itinerary.
If you want to spare yourself a lot of embarrassment, it’s a good idea to know that the changing rooms and stations designated by red curtains are for ladies and those designated by blue curtains are for males.
Thirdly, always shower before using a public pool or bathhouse. It is customary to use the showers provided before stepping into a bath, and doing so is required. For a more relaxing bath, each shower area also features classic wooden tubs and chairs. You probably won’t need to bring your own toiletries because most onsens include shampoo, conditioner, and soap. Just remember to leave everything in its proper place!
Every expert onsen user will tell you to never put your towel in the bath. Some locals may view this as rude and unsanitary.
In addition, you can’t just leave these towels somewhere, like by the poolside or in the showers. Because of this, it is strongly suggested that one wear towels on one’s head. When the water gets too hot, putting a cold towel on one’s head might be a welcome relief for the face and body. It would be wise to hone your towel-balancing skills in advance of your vacation.
While there aren’t any hard and fast laws, it’s best for women to wait until their menstruation is over before traveling or visiting an onsen.
Japanese onsen visitors are highly concerned about contaminating the water. This is why wearing bathing suits or even placing towels into the bath water is strongly frowned upon. While tampons might save lives, many people find it unsettling to watch someone join a nude-only public pool with a string in between their legs.
Onsen and Japanese Bath House Etiquette
Prime onsen resorts will undoubtedly welcome visitors and international guests, but there are a select few that have limitations.
Some older-style hot springs resorts, especially those managed by families in remote villages, have strict policies against international visitors, especially those with visible body art.
There are business owners who worry that clients would be scared away by customers with huge tattoos. There are others who are simply fed up with the antics of their clientele. Some residents may wish to avoid the gawking eyes of Gaijin who snap photos of everything down to the hand-carved signage on storefront walls.
This intriguing ban on outsiders has been a source of racial strife for years. Yet it is in the best interest of the locals to keep their bath rooms private. The laws have been loosened up, but it’s still a good idea to read up on the neighborhood to make an informed decision.
What makes a Japanese onsen so special, and why almost all of them require bathers to strip down to their underwear, is that they are nude only. This necessitates a completely nude experience upon entering and leaving the pool. This is also why the majority of onsens have separate bathing areas for men and women.
On rare occasions, the owners of public bathing facilities may provide permission to wear a swimsuit. Even at some of the onsens that are open to both sexes, guests are given robes for modesty. However, finding one in the countryside might be difficult, and most of the classic hot springs are clothing optional.
Feel free to use the accompanying hand towel as a cover-up if you’re self-conscious about entering the bathtub clad in nothing but your underwear. Make careful the towel doesn’t become wet though! A lot of the locals will tell you that covering up will get you more attention than acting naturally.
In addition, the primary goal of Japanese onsen is to aid visitors in unwinding. Don’t go splashing around in the pool. As that will just make a lot of extra noise for no good reason. Even though there are other areas of the resort designed for more lighthearted pursuits, it is also essential that everyone enjoy a peaceful and tranquil experience.
Best Japanese Onsen
Dogo Onsen, located in Matsuyama City, is a popular onsen that is among the oldest in Japan. The entire mansion is made of wood and dates back to the Meiji era. It’s a huge, three-story building with an ethereal, traditional vibe that’s sure to evoke feelings of longing for old Japan.
What this implies is that even in the heart of a modern city, you can find a bit of history in the form of a cozy building. The atmosphere here is exactly what you’d expect from traditional, cultural, and historical Japanese onsens. So it’s well worth the trip.
As one of the best hot springs in all of Japan, this spot is a must-visit. It has been recognized for its historical significance by being named a “Important Cultural Property” and receiving three Michelin stars.
It has been mentioned numerous times in the oldest historical writings in Japan, which date back over 3,000 years. Royalty has been known to enjoy the soothing waters of these springs, according to legend and historical records.
Famous Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki paid homage to the Dogo Onsen. In his Oscar-winning film “Spirited Away,” thus cementing the Dogo Onsen’s place in pop culture.
A trip to the Tenzan onsen in Kanagawa, Japan, is a must for anyone looking for the ultimate relaxation escape. Despite its distance of over 60 miles from Tokyo, visitors may reach Kanagawa from Tokyo Station in just over an hour and a half. One can only fantasize of taking a refreshing plunge in the pool on a rainy afternoon while admiring the lush greenery of the Hakone Mountains.
Because it is a massive multiple-bath hot spring complex, this bath house is popular with both locals and visitors. And everyone may enjoy the same peaceful atmosphere.
Traditional Japanese exhibit elements such as sliding wooden doors, tatami mats, and mazes of tight corridors are all there. Making this onsen look much like any other. There are courtyards, eateries, and a souvenir shop within the property, making it ideal for a relaxing weekend trip with friends or family.
Several rotomburos, or outdoor baths, may be found around the complex. Those looking for a painful but surprisingly pleasurable hot soak will have a number of huge pools to choose from. The pools are large and situated on several levels. For the authentic experience of a hot spring, there is also a pool that leads into a cave. The facility also features two specialized pools, one made entirely of cedar and another whose water is milky white due to the addition of aromatic substances. Both have been credited with miraculous recuperative properties.
The Arima Onsen, with a staggering nightly cost of around 30,000 Japanese Yen, is perhaps one of the most talked-about bathhouses in all of Japan. You may rest assured that your money will be well spent here because each customer is treated like a king or queen.
Nihonshoki, Japan’s historical chronicles, makes reference to the Arima onsen waters as far back as the seventh century. Their past is filled with tales of warriors, queens, emperors, and other notable figures who visited them over the years.
Kobe is around seven hours from Tokyo, but the trip will be well worth it because the Arima onsen is so relaxing. What sets Arima Onsen apart is that it is not merely one bath house but rather an entire district comprised of numerous onsens, resorts, and hotels, each of which offers its own unique set of specials and packages.
The fact that, for an extra fee, guests can go on tours of the surrounding area is something that makes this onsen stand out.
Tenjin Gensen, a hot spring known for its high iron content, is only one of the many attractions in the city. You can also visit parks, temples, and other interesting places. Get out and see the sights for a dose of local culture you won’t soon forget.
Takeo-onsen is reported to be over a thousand years old, making it another of Japan’s most ancient onsens. According to Japan Guide, the hotel’s decor is so authentically Japanese. It makes visitors feel like they’re staying in a real castle.
This area of Saga prefecture is well-known as a premier onsen destination. It’s due to the exceptional quality of its hot spring water. Reports claim that the high sodium bicarbonate content of this region’s water makes it a treat for the skin and body.
The Takeo-onsen is a spa with a lavish design, complete with a pool decorated with Roman tiles. A massive traditional gate with ornate, vintage architecture welcomes guests as they enter a time capsule of Japan’s past. When guests enter, they will be wowed by a spacious courtyard that leads to rooms and houses with twisting, turning hallways.
Best Japanase Onsen Abroad
To find a truly authentic Japanese bathhouse outside of Japan is an arduous task. However, there are certain hotels that aim to provide an experience similar to that of a traditional Japanese hot spring.
Other Asian countries, like South Korea and China, also have their own versions of public bathhouses. For instance, there are a number of hot springs in Shanghai that are very similar to onsens in Japan. Relax in the warm waters of these spas at your own pace; both locals and visitors are welcome. A prominent spa in Singapore includes an onsen visit as part of its packages. Both individual massage rooms and a public bathing area are available.
The Kabuki Springs and Spa in California is a well-known Japanese onsen and spa facility in the United States. Their bathing and leisure packages may be more westernized, but they nevertheless retain some traditional onsen elements. There are additional local hot springs, although they lack the creativity of their Japanese counterparts.
The baths at Japanese onsens are simply one amenity. Many of them consist of various sections and spaces designed for relaxation and repose. As a result, many onsen hotels provide overnight stay specials. And have tatami-floored relaxation spaces guaranteed to put even the most restless traveler into a deep slumber.