When you visit an onsen for the first time, it may be good to keep a close eye on some things in order not to make any cultural blunders.
As you may guess, ladies and gentlemen are separated – often the entrance for women indicates a red drape and for men with a blue. You can also look for symbols for men (男 – otoko) and woman (女 – onna). Also, keep in mind that this may change during the day. Often you have two or more different onsen’s that are open different times of the day for men and women. This is for guests to be able to enjoy all the different onsens available.
The dressing room
Inside the dressing room, you take off your slippers or shoes. After that, there are shelves with compartments and baskets to put your clothes and bath towel. In both onsen and sento, you are naked when you enter the water, no swimwear of any kind is permitted. What you bring into the bathroom itself is a small towel. If you stay at an onsen, you will find the towels in your room. The small towels are used to wash your body both before and after the bath, the big one is a per usual to dry yourself after the bath.
The bathroom itself
Once inside the bath area, the wet part, of the onsen or sento, there is an area with showers. At each shower, there is a small stool and a small bucket, as well as soap and shampoo.
It is essential that you wash before stepping into the hot water. Once cleaned, just step into the hot baths. Just make sure you remove all soapy foam from your body, it’s a big no-no to get soap into the water. It’s never deep, and you usually sit down and try to enjoy the hot water as much as you can. No splashing or sudden movements, this is a place to relax.
Often there are a couple of different hot spring pools to enjoy. The difference between the baths can be the temperature, some hotter than others, or that there might be a higher concentration of mineral in one of the pools. Many times there is also a bath that is partly or wholly outside. Very lovely a rugged autumn, your head above the water in the crisp air and your body in the 40C/104F warm water.
The small towel that you bring with you should preferably not enter into the water, it’s seen as making the water dirty. Instead, store it on the top of your head or fold it together and lay it outside the pool.
Important to consider during the onsen visit:
- Ladies and gentlemen are separated
- No swimwear – you bathe naked – put clothes and towel in the basket
- Bring the small towel into the bath area – it’s for cleaning your body
- Wash your body at the showers – before you stepping into the hot spring water
- Make sure to remove all soap-foam – foam in hot water is one of the seven onsen deadly sins!
- The small towel must be kept out of the warm water – put it on your head or next to the pool