Japan is made up of 80% mountain areas and the vast majority of onsen are surrounded by nature, which makes hiking and onsen a great combination. Since ancient times, Japanese people have loved soaking in onsen not only to relax the body, but also to clean and refresh the mind while connecting with nature. The hot spring water is therefore considered pure and should not be contaminated with external elements. For this reason, you enter completely naked after thoroughly washing yourself. Other external elements, such as towels or even one’s hair, must not touch the water.
Like public etiquette in Japan, onsen has some rules and manners that must be respected and followed.
Onsen entrance is usually tatami flooring which means that you have to remove your shoes before entering. There may be a coin locker that requires a coin. This will be returned when you retrieve your shoes after enjoying the onsen.
The changing rooms are divided by gender. Usually those with red curtains are for women, while those with blue curtains are for men. In some onsen, you can use any lockers that are free but in others, you will be given the corresponding key and locker number. The key is also a hygienic bracelet that can be worn while bathing in the onsen. All your bags and clothes must be deposited in the locker and you will enter the bath area naked.
It’s permitted to bring a towel and any products for cleaning and body care, but after using them, you have to leave them on the shelves or at the edge of the pool.
First, go to the wash stations (they’re usually equipped with body soap, shampoo and conditioner), then sit on the stool in your designated area and wash yourself thoroughly while taking all the time you need.
Once you have thoroughly washed yourself, tie up your hair and rinse the station to avoid accumulation of soap. Be sure to rearrange all the stuff as you found them.
Now you are ready to soak in the onsen!! If you are shy, you can use a small towel to cover yourself, but remove it before entering the bath because you must enter completely naked. The towel should in no way touch the water.
It is a good rule of hygiene to keep your hair tied so that it does not float in the bath. Don’t treat the onsen as a water park; that means don’t submerge your face or swim in the onsen.
Although onsen is a place to relax, there is no problem in chatting (but keep a low tone of voice to not disturb others). Since ancient times, hot springs are considered excellent places to meet people and socialize!
Once relaxed enough and ready to leave, dry yourself a little before leaving the bath area, enough to not wet the floor of changing rooms.
The changing rooms are generally equipped with hairdryers and disposable brushes. Sometimes, body creams and lotions are also available.
Before leaving the onsen building, do as the onsen-pros do: drink some milk! You will for sure find vending machine with bottles of milk or flavored milk. It is said that drinking milk immediately after soaking helps invigorate the body and make the skin shine!
Smoking is not allowed, even in places with outdoor onsen.
The use of mobile phones and cameras is prohibited as well.
Generally, you cannot enter an onsen if you have tattoos. If the tattoo is small, you can easily find special tape to cover them that are often sold at the entrance of the structure, drugstores or shopping center like Donqui. If the tattoos are very large, some structures have private onsen that can be booked and used exclusively for yourself (or your group) for a few hours. Recently, some onsens also accept tattooed tourists, however, they are quite rare to find.