Japan Onsen Manners and Etiquette: 14 Tips for First Timers

Among the many things that Japan is famous for, one thing that stands out and visitors, both Westerners and Asians tend to overlook is Onsen. Onsen is a combination of bath etiquette which involves nudity (sometimes with the opposite sex) and water that is hotter than the most Jacuzzis.

Onsen waters are known for their cancer healing capacities and when people try the technique they discover that it is one activity that will make their trip all the more memorable.

Since we can assume not everyone is familiar or comfortable with this, knowing the following could help save you or someone you know from embarrassment.

  1. Remove your shoes before you step on the tatami floors. There are shelves available to leave your footware a the entrance of the facility. It’s considered very rude to do otherwise.
  2. Enter only at the correct changing room. Obviously, men (blue curtains with 男 character) and women (red curtains with 女 character) have separate changing rooms designated appropriately.
  3. Remove your clothing. Basically this is why you need to enter the changing room. The only item you can possibly bring in with you into the onsen is a small washcloth.
  4. Wash yourself thoroughly before you enter the bath facilities. Shower and stool are provided right before the onsen. If the small bathing stools are unavailable, crouch by the edge of the bath and scoop bathwater directly to rinse yourself.
  5. It is preferable to bring your own soap and face towel. While some baths don’t provide these, the ones that do cost you around 300 to 500 Yen. So why not save them?
  6. If you have valuable items with you, rent a coin locker
  7. In most of the Onsen baths, you are not allowed to take photographs so don’t get your camera.
  8. Onsen bath surfaces can be slippery so enter carefully. Excitement can lead you to slip and hurt yourself.
  9. Some onsen hotels have separate bath timings for males and females. Plan accordingly.
  10. Do not let your towel touch the water and do not rinse yourself in that water. Neither is that acceptable nor is it hygienic.
  11. If you cover your head with towel while in the bath do not unwind it and keep it on a rock.
  12. The onsen baths are for soaking and contemplation. Do not swim.
  13. As soon as you get out of the bath, remove all excess water wipe off the sweat before you enter the locker room.
  14. Take advantage of the rooms where you can lie down, take a nap and drink some beer. Many onsen facilities have this.

Photo credit: Japanexperterna