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Japanese Hot Springs – Onsen Etiquette

Looking for a nice way to have a harmoniously enjoyable cultural experience while replenishing your body and enjoying a naturally healing Japanese tradition that is popular for all the right reasons? For many people a relaxing day at a gorgeous and naturally rejuvenating hot spring spa is just about the most wonderful sounding idea you could possibly ever propose.

Japan is famous for its hot springs and for good reason. It is essentially a group of volcanic islands and so there are plenty of active springs available throughout the country to enjoy. The hot springs in Japan are called onsen and the onsen in Japan is among the most appreciated natural resources in the country!

Japan’s Onsen Etiquette

You may or may not have heard that there is a somewhat elaborate etiquette to be followed in order to successfully attend a Japanese onsen in a way that actually provides a pleasurable experience to both you and other onsen attendees.

Following these guidelines will much better ensure that you have a pleasant experience rather than one riddled with glaring dismay and shock. Here is a quick overview of the process to follow when attending an onsen and later on also some onsen faux pas to watch out for. While this all may sound a bit extreme, do remember that your fellow onsen bathers will also be following these guidelines and that they have been set up for good reason.

The onsen is meant to be a pleasant experience for all and keeping it a clean, quiet, and harmonious place is highly important.


Remove your shoes where you see that other people’s shoes have also been removed. This may be at the entrance to the onsen building or later in the locker rooms. Also, there may be slippers provided for you to wear prior to entering any bath area of the building.  You will likely be given a locker key or similar at the front desk. You may also be given a towel. You may be asked to pay any admission costs prior to the onsen or after you are finished and return your locker keys.

Locker Room

Place everything in the lockers, there will likely be a special locker for shoes. The only thing you should have with you is a towel and your locker key which will likely be on a cord you place around your upper arm.


This is the most important step as it is of primary importance that one is completely clean prior to entering the onsen baths. There will likely be a shower room area or occasionally just spouts and buckets to bathe with. You will see stools on which to sit while bathing.

You should sit or stand facing the shower or spout while bathing rather than facing the bath since your modesty is of importance. Wash your hair and your entire body completely, regardless of how recently you have showered or bathed at another location.

It may sound tedious, but it is actually an enjoyable aspect of many onsens as the facilities can be truly wonderful. You may also be surprised at some small area between your toes or on the back of your leg that appreciates your newfound attention. Think of it as a massage prior to the hot spring. Make sure to keep your towel relatively dry by putting it somewhere safe for later.

Hot Spring

Only when you are absolutely clean should you proceed to the hot spring area. Once you are ready to do so, bring your towel and enjoy all of the wonderful kinds of pools and other aquatic wonders that the onsen is likely to provide. You may be pleasantly surprised. The onsen in Japan is truly spectacular.

Lastly, here is a quick tip on something to avoid which will ensure the best onsen visit possible.


Tattoos are traditionally a mafia-related symbol in Japan and so many onsens will not allow entry to persons displaying large pieces of body art. If you have a small tattoo then the best suggestion is to cover it with a small and fresh piece of clean white gauze and tape or a similar non-obtrusive bandage. This will better ensure entry to the onsen without any issues.

Always be courteous and remember that people at the onsen are also following the same guidelines to ensure the healthiest and happiest experience for all attending the hot spring.