The onsen is the symbol of the Japanese art of living and welfare. It is indissociable from Japan and if you visit this country without going there, you may regret it.
The onsen, what is this?
The onsen is like a spa. Indeed, it is a hot bath and the water is heated thanks to a geothermal source. So, there are hot and cold baths or sauna and/or solarium depending on the establishment.
Well, ok, but we can find spas everywhere in Europe or around the world. So why is the onsen so particular? Because the main difference is that you are totally naked. No clothes, even not a swimsuit is allowed. However, keep calm it’s not mixed, males and females are separated. So, you will be completely naked but you will stay with people of your sex.
In theory, the people with a tattoo are not allowed to enter in an onsen. Indeed, historically the tattoo was for the yakuza (the Japanese mafia). Thus, even if you’re not a yakuza, the onsen entrance may be forbidden for you. But, that’s the theory. In practice, things change (slowly) and some onsens authorize tattoos, no matter their sizes. And to know which onsens allow tattoos, there is a website which identifies them: https://tattoofriendlyjp.com/listing-map/
The onsen: instruction for use
Like often in Japan, there are rules to follow. And to avoid mistakes and uncomfortable situations, it’s important to read and know the following rules.
- Before going to the onsen, bring with you two towels (a small and a large) and soap. The large towel will stay in the locker with your belongings and you will use it to dry yourself when you come back. The small towel comes with you in the onsen. In some establishment, you can buy towels and soap will be included. But if you have a doubt, I advise you to take with them with you.
- Once you’re in the establishment, you will first arrive in the lockers room. Even if it seems logical for me now, one thing surprised me when I arrived: there is no cubicle. You undress completely in front of your locker and put all your belongings inside. You just keep the small towel with you (and the soap if it’s not included).
- Next step: the shower! The baths are not here to wash but to relax. Thus, you take a shower before the bath. Here too, the showers surprised me. Of course, there is no shower cubicle but a stool. Actually, you have to sit on the stool while you take the shower and avoid showering the others with your shower.
- Now, you just have to relax and enjoy!
There are other rules, they are more logical and apply to common sense, but the receptionist told me about:
- If you have long hairs, tie them up
- Don’t enter in the bath with your towel
- Don’t wash your towel or clothes in the bath or shower
- Don’t jump or play in the water
First of all, you have to know that I love going to the spa. Even if I don’t go often, I don’t miss an opportunity to relax in a spa. Thus, traveling in Japan without trying the onsen was inconceivable to me. And now, I stop the suspense: I loved it.
But yes, the first minutes were uncomfortable for me. Especially when I had to undress in front of my locker with someone next to me (I was very lucky I know). Then, walking completely naked to go from one bath to another or to the sauna, wasn’t very easy at the beginning. And if you’re thinking about to tie a towel around your hips, forget it. Nobody does it and you will be even more uncomfortable. However, if you go to the solarium or the sauna, you can use the small towel to hide your sex and chest. But otherwise, everybody walks without any complex. So yes, the start wasn’t easy.
Then, after a few minutes, I recalled I was surrounded by women. And, basically, we are all the same with our complexes, our “too much of this” and “not enough of this”. And from this time, I really relaxed and enjoy the sauna and the baths.
Like I said before, I love the spa and I go there from time to time. Yet, it was the first time for me to go totally naked. And I must confess, it’s not the same when I wear a swimsuit or not. I’m going to detail why, but I recommend you to try at least once if you have the opportunity! In my case, I will do it again when I have the chance because I liked the place, the atmosphere, and the feeling when you have no complex at all.
Of course, the onsen is a small part of the Japanese culture, if you want to discover the rest of this country, read my article about it!