4 Things You Need To Know Before You Take Your First Onsen Bath
A trip to Japan isn’t complete without partaking in the age-old tradition of taking a Japanese bath, or onsen. But taking an onsen bath is no walk in the park for first-timers. For those who’ve never done it before, the onsen bath is fraught with unfamiliar regulations and even requires a whole new outlook on your body!
So why do it?
Well, for starters, you get to enjoy being in the ambience of mother nature. On top of that, regular onsen bathing rejuvenates your skin, detoxifies the body and relaxes you for a wonderful night’s sleep. Some folks swear that it promotes longevity, but to me – good skin, good sleep and an excuse to relax? Just take my money already!
I must warn you though, the rules at most onsens are pretty strict. Here are four things you must remember before you go on your first onsen adventure.
Step One: Strip down
Here’s probably the hardest thing about going to an onsen. Traditional onsens will require you to disrobe completely. That fact alone might turn many people away from the prospect of onsens, especially when reality shows often show the hosts in towels when they’re in the bath.
If you aren’t comfortable with being bare in front of people you know or don’t know, then check that the place either allows swimwear or has private pools you can hire just for yourself (which can be pricey).
However, when you’re at a real Japanese onsen, you’ll notice that the Japanese people are so comfortable with their bodies, they hardly bat an eyelid at another person’s. So, you might want to consider going au naturel. It can be freeing, enjoyable and really, nobody is judging you.
Step Two: Get clean
After you strip down and lock your valuables away in a locker, you’ll step into a dedicated bathing area with a small stool, shower head, shampoo and body soap. Here’s where you actually have to sit down and take a real bath – soap and all. The Japanese are sticklers for cleanliness and with so many people getting in and out of the pools, it is no wonder that good personal hygiene is top on the list.
Step Three: Observe the rules
While different onsens may differ on some rules, for the most part, onsens are united on a few key don’ts:
- Don’t have a heavy meal or drink alcohol before you enter the pools.
- Don’t use your mobile phone at all times.
- Don’t splash around or swim in the pool. Soak quietly.
- Don’t talk loudly as you will ruin the peacefulness.
- Don’t wash or wring your small face towel in the bath water. It is unhygienic for other bathers.
On the other hand, onsen staff will encourage you to do the following:
- Do drink water throughout the onsen experience to prevent dehydration.
- Do remove all jewellery, glasses and other accessories as the minerals in the water can discolour them.
- Do use the small towel given for modesty as you are walking towards the pool but put it on your head once you are in the pool.
Finally, if you have tattoos, you may want to check with the onsen if they will allow you to enter. Some might view it as having connections with the crime syndicates and are not welcome in many onsens.
Step Four: The after-bath experience
Most onsens have an eating area, massage, or a quiet relaxation area. After soaking in an onsen, don’t be in a hurry to leave. Follow tradition and have a comforting post-bath glass of milk or indulge in a soothing deep tissue massage or lounge in your yukata on a comfy couch while catching up with everything that happened online while you were soaking away.
Enjoy your first onsen experience!
One thing’s for sure, the onsen will wash aside all your worldly cares so that you can delight in some serenity, at least for an afternoon.