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We’re sure you’re excited about planning a trip to Japan. Who wouldn’t be? It’s a country known for its delicious cuisine, beautiful architecture, and of course, their pop culture. But aside from exploring the major cities or visiting your favorite anime and manga shops, why don’t you also drop by an onsen or two?

Onsens, or hot springs, are a whole experience on their own. Japan is widely known for having some of the best hot springs in the world. Not only will you get to have a one-of-a-kind bathing experience; onsens also provide incredible health benefits such as improved blood circulation and easing of muscle tension. We simply can’t think of a better way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing!

An onsen is like a spa–only better! Get ready to feel relaxed and rejuvenated. But before that, there are a couple of rules you should keep in mind before you visit an onsen. After all, Japan might have a very different culture from your own, so it’s important to prepare yourself beforehand!

1. Do your research — especially if you have tattoos!


You may already know that onsens are notorious for not letting people with tattoos experience their services. This is actually deeply rooted in Japanese culture. In Japan, tattoos are often associated with criminals especially yakuza (Japanese gang), which is why there can be a huge social stigma against them.

However, attitudes are slowly changing, especially towards foreigners, so some onsens already allow tattooed guests. Some may also require you to cover up your tattoos with a removable sticker. In any case, it is best to do your research or reach out to the onsen beforehand to ask about their policy regarding tattoos.

Read More: 10 Beautiful Tattoo Friendly Ryokans In Japan

2. Familiarize yourself with the different kinds of onsen


Japan has all kinds of different onsens. Onsens vary depending on where their water is sourced, what minerals and properties their water sources possess, and what beneficial effects each kind of water source can have for the guests. The water sources in onsens also have different temperatures. On average, onsen water is somewhere between 38°C – 43°C (100°F – 109°F).

However, some onsens also have hotter temperatures, which a lot of guests actually prefer. These go for around 48°C – 50°C (118°F – 122°F). Do your research on what kind of onsen is best for you!

3. Know your cycle


Ladies, listen up! If you’re planning to visit an onsen, then you have to keep close track of your menstrual cycle. Onsens advise against women using their facilities if they are on their period. It’s best to wait it out and visit at a better time.

4. Know your changing room


Changing rooms in onsen are divided by gender. You will often see the Kanji characters 女 (onna) labeling the women’s room, while 男 (otoko) is used for the men’s room. To make it less confusing, most onsens’ changing rooms are also color-coded, with red for the women and blue for the men. When in doubt, ask around — because it will definitely be a disaster if you walk into the wrong room!

5. No swimsuits


That’s right — Japanese onsens typically require guests to bathe while fully nude! If it’s your first time bathing with other people, it may feel a little weird in the beginning. But we invite you to embrace this part of Japanese culture and take part in this experience–no matter how scary or strange. Remember that this communal bathing practice is completely normal in Japan and we guarantee that it will be a totally respectful experience. No one will even pay you any attention!

Many onsens provide small washcloths for their guests to cover up when going from the changing room to the bathing areas. However, this is the only thing you can bring — large towels, swimsuits, underwear, and clothes, are a no-no.

You know what they say — when in Rome, do what Romans do!

6. Bring a small washcloth


Like we’ve said, you can bring a small washcloth with you so you can go from the changing room to the washing areas. If you forget, many onsens usually have washcloths for you to borrow, but you may have to pay a small fee. While you can bring this washcloth with you to the bathing area, you can’t enter the water with it.

In fact, you shouldn’t let it touch the onsen water at all! You can leave it to the side of the bath while you bathe. Or, if you want to be more like the locals, simply place it on top of your head while you take a dip.

7. Don’t use your phone in the changing room


Obviously, you can’t take any photos or videos while in the changing room. Remember to respect everyone’s privacy as well as yours! Even if you won’t be taking any photos, it’s still generally seen as rude to be using your phone in such an intimate space as the changing room. If you have to use it, then we recommend you fully extend your arms inside your locker and use it in that way.

8. Tie your hair neatly


If you have long hair, it’s best to tie it up securely before heading to the soaking areas. You can secure your hair after you have finished washing it.

9. Be mindful of washing areas


The onsen usually has a washing area where you can get yourself clean with shampoo and soap. Meanwhile, there is also a soaking area where you can have a relaxing time in warm waters. In the soaking areas, you can’t wash your hair and body. These areas are purely made for you to enjoy the warm healing temperatures after you’ve already cleaned yourself up from your bath.

10. Be clean! Wash your lower body first


The customary sequence at an onsen goes a little bit like this: lightly wash your lower body, soak your lower body for a while, get out of the soaking area and bathe yourself using soap and shampoo, and finally get back into the soaking area to relax. Don’t worry if it’s your first time.

While seasoned locals know this pattern by heart, we’re sure you will get the hang of it in no time! Each area in an onsen is carefully labeled so you would know which areas are for bathing and which ones are simply for soaking. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask one of the staff.

11. No running or swimming


Most baths are too shallow to swim in anyway, but we must still emphasize this point! Onsens are primarily made for washing oneself, but they’re also places to relax and rejuvenate. Remember that this is not a swimming pool! Running is also prohibited for safety reasons — the floors are often very slippery because of the nature of the onsen. Rowdy behavior is also generally discouraged so as to maintain the peaceful atmosphere of the onsen.

12. No splashing


In relation to the previous point, splashing is also frowned upon in onsen waters. In general, it’s best to really just sit, relax, and enjoy the time by yourself. Onsens are also great avenues for self-reflection. Remember that many people come here to have a relaxing time, so it’s best to help keep the environment as quiet and as peaceful as possible.

13. Remain sober


Because onsen water temperatures can go from 38°C (100°F) to as high as 50°C (122°F), it wouldn’t be advisable for drunk or hungover people to soak in the baths. It would probably worsen your health! It’s best to just reschedule your onsen visit if you’re not feeling up for it. Being visibly drunk or hungover in public, especially early in the morning, can also be frowned upon by the locals, so we advise you to remain sober during your onsen visits.

14. Avoid grooming


While onsens are places where you can wash up and clean yourself, remember that this is not your personal bathroom! This is still a public place, so you should be mindful of others when visiting. It is generally considered impolite to do any grooming activities such as beard trimming, nail cutting, shaving, and so on while in the onsen.

15. Eyes up here!


And here is where we remind you again that guests use the onsen while completely nude. To make sure the onsen remains a comfortable, enjoyable, and respectful environment for everyone, guests tend to avoid looking at each other — especially if they are strangers. Do avoid staring at other people and be mindful of where your gaze lands. In fact, why not just stare out at the beautiful view instead?

16. Use your inside voices


While it is okay to chat with friends and family inside the onsen, do remember to keep your voice low and quiet. After all, this is still a public place and you wouldn’t want everyone to hear about your business. Most of all, you definitely would not want to disrupt the calm vibe of the onsen by talking too loud!

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17. Clean up after yourself


After you’re done using the onsen services, it’s best to also clean up after yourself. If you used any buckets to wash yourself or stools to sit on, then make sure to rinse those and set them aside before leaving. Remember that Japanese people really value cleanliness and order, especially in public places like the onsen, so it’s best to abide by these societal norms.

18. Wipe your body before going back to the changing room


Before going back to the changing rooms, lightly wipe yourself with the washcloth you brought. Once inside the changing room, you can wipe your body completely with a larger bath towel and then change into a yukata (casual kimono) so you can lounge around in the other areas of the onsen.

19. Sit appropriately


You can usually find chairs or benches in the changing area. Before sitting, make sure you’re already dry and you’ve already put clothes on!

20. Hydrate!


Lastly, we remind you to stay hydrated. After you’re done bathing and relaxing in the onsen, it’s pretty customary to have a refreshing drink afterward. Onsens usually offer traditional Japanese beverages, as well as coffee, milk, fruits au lait, and more. Enjoy!

We hope you found our article about onsen etiquette helpful! Which tip surprised you the most? Don’t forget to share with us in the comments!

Onsens can be pretty intimidating if you’re a foreigner and it’s your first time. But fear not — there are just a few simple tips and tricks you should keep in mind before visiting. The goal is to enjoy the onsen experience as much as possible. By following these tips, you can definitely have an enjoyable experience while keeping the place enjoyable and respectful for others as well.

Planning to stay at a Ryokan during your trip to Japan? Check out all the rules & manners related to Ryokan Etiquette.