In Japanese onsen, there are many unique manners you need to follow, which allow everyone sharing the same space to respect each other and have a good and relaxing time. In this article, we will tell you about these manners that you should know prior to your trip to an onsen.
1. Those with tattoos need to be careful beforehand
In Japan, tattoos are also called "Ire-Zumi" and they have been symbols of gangsters for a long time. Lately, it is getting more popular for young people to get tattoos as a fashion statement, but there are still many onsens and sentoes that refuse people with tattoos to use their facilities. Or they may ask you to hide your tattoos with a Band-Aid or things of that nature, so it is better to make sure before you make your trip.
2. Take off your jewelries and prepare a Band-Aid if you have an open scar
Jewelries can be easily lost in a bathing room, and it is dangerous if someone steps on a jewelry that you lost. Also, depending on various ingredients in water, which may include sulfur, your jewelry may change its color. So, to be safe, let's take it off beforehand.
Those who have open scars have to be careful too. Though some onsen claims that their water is "effective for scars", that does not mean the water works like an antiseptic. It is possible that if you have a scar still healing, its condition may get worse if bacteria gets into your body from the scar. So, in that situation, we recommend to have a waterproof Band-Aid ready.
3. No underwear, no swimsuit; only towels allowed in a bathing room
In Japanese onsen, it is a manner not to wear an underwear or a swimsuit when going into a bathing room. Take off your clothes completely and only take your locker key, body towel, soap and shampoo.
It is safer to bring your own towel, soap and shampoo with you, but in most onsen facilities, you can rent them or buy them at a front desk. Also, most facilities have soap and shampoo ready in a bathing room, so we recommend you to ask at a front desk.
Entrance of Onsen
4. Soak in a tub after you wash off your body
When in onsen, it is one of basic etiquettes "not to ruin water in a tub", so it is a taboo to enter the water right away. In average onsen facilities, there are "wash areas" available, so before anything, use lots of soap and wash your body thoroughly. If you are a woman with make-up on, it is better to remove it before going into water so that it won't come off in water in a steamy bathing room. Of course, it is OK to wash your hair before you enter the water too.
In a wash area, there are faucets for water and hot water and you can sit on a small stool to wash your body. Or, if there is a shower booth apart from a wash area, it is OK to use this space.
5. No hair dyeing or clothes washing in a wash area
In most onsen facilities, dyeing hair in a wash area or a shower booth is prohibited. This is because many hair dyes have irritating smells and they may be harmful for those with sensitive skin if touched. Moreover, a chemical reaction between onsen ingredients and hair dye ingredients may create stains on a tub or on a floor that cannot be removed. So, even if it is not listed as prohibited, it is better to avoid a use of it.
Also prohibited in a wash area in most onsen facilities is "washing clothes". Instead, there are some public bath including onsens and sentoes that are equipped with a laundromat.
If you need to wash your clothes, do it in a laundromat
6. Do not put your towel and hair in the water
Let's move on to a tub after you finish washing off your body!
When you do so, please remember that soaking your towel and hair in the water is regarded as a taboo.
You may say that you have seen people soaked in the water wearing a towel in some TV shows and travel guide books. However, please be aware that those are for "shootings" and are exceptional cases.
As for hair, even if they are clean, you cannot soak them in the water. If you have long hair, you could use an elastic and tie them up in a bun. Or, it is even better if you can make a bun with your towel, since it will also give you a place to put your towel.
7. Wipe your hair and body with a squeezed towel when going back to a locker room
Prior to going back to a locker room being fully satisfied with your onsen experience, squeeze your towel well and wipe off excess water from all over your body.
It is regarded as a rude behavior to re-enter a locker room with water dripping from your body, and to wet a floor as a result. Of course, if you washed your hair, wipe off water from your hair also as best as you can before going back to a locker room.
If you have a chance to visit Japan, you have to experience an onsen. Follow the rules explained in this article and have a fun onsen visit!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.