Taking mineral baths or bathing in hot springs is one of the oldest Japanese traditional cultures. In Japanese language, they are called “Onsen (温泉)”.
Onsen can be considered a part of Japanese daily life. The water originally comes from the underground after passing through an impermeable layer of clay and stones which contain accumulated minerals such as sodium, calcium and fluoride. This results in water used in Onsen being highly mineralizes and beneficial for helath. Every Onsen in Japan has to be checked and licensed before it opens to public.
There are many health benefits in Onsen bathing. First, the water gives your skin the natural “glow”. It also helps improve blood circulation. The famous researcher Dr. Yuko Agishi also confirmed that Onsen bathing helps people relieve both the physical and mental pain, especially stress from daily life. That is why Japanese people love going to Onsens daily. And you too should not be afraid or shy! Make sure to experience this first-hand when in Japan.
Here are some common rules you should follow when bathing at a Japanese Onsen in Ryokan (Japanese Inns). Before going into one, let’s check out what we should and shouldn’t do in order to have the best experience ourselves and not bother locals around us.
- In most Ryokans (Japanese Inn), you will get 3 clothes: a Yukata (Japanese-style bathrobe), a big towel and a small towel. First, change your clothes to Yukata. Then proceed to the bathtub area; do not forget to bring the 2 towels you got with you. You will see the locker area, or baskets in some places. This is for keeping your Yukata and other valuable things. Now take off all of your clothes and leave everything except the small towel in the locker.
- When you get into the Onsen, there will be a shower area with shampoos and body soap. Most likely there will be small chairs for you to sit down on while showering. You have to take a shower before getting into a bath. You can wash your hair, body, or brush your teeth. After taking a shower, wipe your body with the small towel.
- Now it is time to take a bath. Get into the Onsen pond/bathtub slowly, starting from your ankle, then knees, waist, chest, and finally all the way to the shoulders. This process helps your body to adapt to hot water gradually. Do not get your body in at once, otherwise you may get a fever.
- Use the small towel to soak water and put in on your forehead. Do not put your head in the water, swirl the water, or swim in an Onsen. These are all considered extremely bad manners. The appropriate time length of soaking in a tub is 20-30 minutes. Do not soak for too long. In some places, you are allowed to have some drinks while relaxing, while others will normally have some drinking water fountains available outside.
- Once done, take a shower again before walking out (this step does not always have to be followed, as it all depends on the place and personal preference). Use the provided big towel to dry your body and put on Yukata. Do not forget that your body might lose some water from high temperatures, so make sure to drink some water right after!
Soaking in hot springs is beneficial in many ways as mentioned above. On a trip to Japan, going to an Onsen is always worth experiencing and is highly recommended. Of course, some bigger onsens that are not attached to any traditional Japanese Inn may have some different rules. But once you step in the manners to follow are universal. Now that you know all the basics, make sure to experience this cultural and healthy tradition when you get a chance! Happy bathing!