Visiting Onsen

Returning to Ryokan Ryokufuso after a magical night in the Ponto-cho, I rushed to change so I could use the in-hotel Onsen.

‘Why rush? Aren’t Onsen like everywhere in Japan?’

They are, but 99.9% of them will refuse entry to patrons with tattoos, even if you’re gaijin. And I really didn’t want to miss out on such an utterly Japanese experience.

What to expect

Visiting an Onsen was a challenging but rewarding experience. Nude bathing is not a thing in Australia so getting completely naked with strangers is hard: it’s way outside my comfort zone.

But the thing about it is, once you start, you realise that no one in the Onsen cares about you. Public bathing is just a thing in Japan. It’s an old custom and no one gives a shit about you or your wobbly bits. They’re there to relax, as you should be.

So if you feel uncomfortable or nervous trying it, that’s ok – it’s totally normal.

But don’t let your comfort zone take experiences away from you! Hell, even stepping onto an airplane is waaaaaay outside of most people’s comfort zones, so take a deep breath and try to keep a sense of humour about the whole thing. 😉

How to visit the Onsen

[Originally a guest post at Friends of Friends travel]

You should enter the Onsen by wearing the plain cotton kimono and slippers that will be provided to you. Make sure to take some soap too. You’ll be provided with a large towel for drying off and a much smaller towel that looks like it would barely cover your hair. This is a body towel which I’ll explain in just a moment.

The Onsen will probably be segregated into sexes (although not all are!) and when you enter you should find a change room with shelves to store your kimono and slippers.

Now comes the brave part.

Whip off your slippers and kimono and store them on the shelf with your large towel. Now use your body towel by holding it length-wise down the body at the chest so that it falls just below the hips. This provides a little modesty before you step into the actual bathing area.

Now you can make your way into the Onsen and, let me tell you, it will probably be impressive no matter where you are. The hotel Onsen I visited was on the 11th floor, had a beautiful view, and was almost exclusively made from stone/marble. It even had a water feature!

Now you’re inside you should make a show of cleaning yourself before entering the bath. Unlike western bathing, where the bath is actually used to become clean, Onsen are about relaxation. And it’s not very relaxing to soak in someone else’s filth!

Choose a shower, sit down on one of the little seats provided, and clean yourself thoroughly. I don’t think you have to clean your hair (I didn’t see anyone washing their hair anyway) but you should definitely clean your body.

Now you can get into the bath, close your eyes and have a nice long soak.

It’s really quite exquisite.

When you’re ready to leave, give yourself a quick cold rinse off (onsen are quite hot, you might feel a bit light-headed), grab your body towel and head back into the change rooms to dry off and don your kimono again.

And, as far as my experience went, that’s really all there was to it!

Why try one?

The great thing about Onsen is they’re so warm (usually around 40C) and so humid. I found the air in Japan to be extremely dry and, as we visited in early April, it was also very cold (particularly at night). Coming out of cold, dry air into a steaming, hot onsen really is the definition of bliss.

And they’re so beautiful too. Like nearly everything in Japan every detail is considered: the type of stone, the colour of metal fittings, the shape and texture of the little plastic seats, the mirrors and shower heads…everything is taken into consideration so that the final product is, well, I guess a work of art really.

Here are the Onsen at Ryokufuso. This is the women’s side:

ryokan ryokufuso japlanning kyoto

Even better at night

And the men’s:

ryokan Japan JaPlanning


And this was a hotel Onsen. If you’re able to visit a bonafide hot spring you can expect something more like this:

Maguse Onsen Japan public bathing JaPlanning Travel

Maguse Onsen

Onsen Japan Nagano public bathing JaPlanning freelance Whitehead

I want to be in it

I’m really, really glad I tried it. I think if I’d passed on the opportunity I’d regret it now.

So if you have the opportunity to visit an Onsen, and particularly if you have tattoos that would otherwise prevent you from entering, be sure to take it – you won’t regret being brave.

Next post: Maiko Makeover

Until next time,

Kally & Mon.

[Feature Image Credit: Go Nagano]

[Image Credit (1,2): Ryokan Ryokufuso]

[Image Credit (3): Wikipedia Commons]

[Image Credit (4): Liquid Snow Tours]

Have you ever used Onsen or Sauna nude? What was your experience like? Leave a comment, we’d love to know!

3 thoughts on “Visiting Onsen

  1. Pingback: Kotoshi: Dinner in the Ponto-cho | JaPlanning

  2. Pingback: Return to Tokyo | JaPlanning

  3. Pingback: Tips for visiting Japan – Part II | JaPlanning

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