Perfect after a big day on the mountain to sooth achey muscles or even just to freshen up, soaking in Onsens are one of Japan’s most popular pass times and a must when visiting the land of the rising sun. Hot springs have been part of traditional Japanese culture for centuries and involve soaking in toasty mineral waters with natural healing qualities. Some Onsens are even located outdoors (Rotenburo), and when combined with the air from a cold, brisk, Japanese winter, makes for the ultimate relaxation.
Be aware that it is customary to bathe in the onsen completely naked. It may feel daunting to walk into a public bathhouse at first but the experience is well worth any initial awkwardness! Onsens have a strict procedure and rules you must abide by, but don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it step by step.
Grab a towel before you leave! Remember to bring one large towel for drying and a smaller towel (nobi nobi) for cleansing and hiding your private bits if you’re shy! But don’t worry, they will offer towels for a small fee if you forget!
In the change rooms, you’ll find either baskets or lockers to store your items. Once you’ve stripped down, head out and don’t forget your nobi nobi.
Shower first! The locals take this part very seriously, so to avoid the grumpy mumble it’s better to be respectful of the culture by making sure you give yourself a good scrub first. Soaps and shampoos are all provided for you so you won’t have to worry about packing your own.
Once you’re cleaned and ready to soak, choose between heading to the sauna or the Onsen. Make sure you use your towel to sit on if you want to check out the Sauna, no bare bums are allowed! There may be two choices of Onsen, the Rotenburo (outdoor) and the Sento (indoors). Don’t rinse your Nobi Nobi in the water as it is seen as unsanitary. Either rest it on your head or use it as a pillow around your neck.
When you’re done soaking, either rinse off at the showers or take a dip in the cold bath to cool off! Pat yourself dry and head back into the change rooms. Drop off some donations as it supports to upkeep of the Onsen and head off when you’re ready!
And that's it! You're all set to jump (or step) into your first Onsen and experience a truly unique part of Japanese culture. Also remember to keep in mind that Onsens are places for relaxing and tranquillity shared with the locals, so remember to behave in a respectful manner.
You can find out more on how to Onsen with this useful video from Hakuba Happo Hot Springs.