Love taking baths? Then the Japanese ‘onsen’, or hot spring bath in English, is perfect for you. An onsen is not just for washing but also for relaxing your muscles. It is also quite good for your health as there are also health benefits to onsen water. All onsen have different mineral compositions and due to that the attributes and scent attached of the onsen baths are also different. It is fun to try and experience a few onsen during your visit to Japan. Japanese often enter several onsen in one day! One after the other. So please don’t hold back! Which might be easier said than done…
For many foreigners it can be quite a big leap to go to an onsen and enter a bath together with lots of other naked people. This article is not only to introduce you to some of the onsen in the area, but also to hopefully let you be able to bridge the cultural gap and experience one of the most fantastic experiences Japan has to offer. Because the biggest problem for most foreigners when wanting to enter an onsen is not knowing how it should be done without offending the Japanese.
First of all, like mentioned above, onsen are not just places to wash yourself. You wash yourself before entering the bath, but that is to not contaminate the water shared by everyone. When getting into the bathing area don’t take your big towel with you. Leave that one in the changing room with all your clothes in a basket, and take just a small towel with you. You could use the tiny towel to cover up, but sooner or later the private parts will be exposed anyway, so why bother. An onsen is hot so it is strongly advised not to drink an alcoholic drink before entering an onsen, as it could be a danger to your health.
When sitting at one of the showers you can put the towel over your leg or hang it up somewhere next to you, it doesn’t matter much. This small towel will most likely lie on top of your head or maybe on the side of the bath whilst your in the onsen. You can use it later to take off the excess water before heading back in to the changing room where you can dry yourself properly with the big towel. When showering yourself, you are not obligated to completely rinse yourself with soap and shampoo. If you recently showered, then you don’t have to.
Third, when you’re set on that part, you can head over to the bath. Sometimes there are different baths, such as inside and outside or different temperatures. There is sometimes a recommended order for the specific onsen, but in general it doesn’t matter. If you want to directly go for the outside bath, go right ahead! But, be careful! People with long hair should make sure to tie it up so that it won’t rest in the onsen water. This will prevent loose hairs from floating around the bath, that also means no dipping your head in the water even if you have short hair! It is always good to test the temperature of the water with your feet first and if needed, sit on the ledge a little bit till you get used to it. When sitting on the ledge, by all means thrown that little towel over your lap for coverage. Ready for the hot onsen water? Head right in!
Fourth, finished enjoying bathing in the onsen? Then just hop back out and you can choose to rinse once more with just water from the shower or to completely shampoo and soap it up, but neither is truly required if you don’t feel the need. Wipe off most of the water with the small towel and head over to the changing room and get your big towel to wipe off the rest of the water to get ready for changing in to your clothes.
Wait! But what about me with my tattoo of pony’s riding motorbikes coloring rainbows with cigarettes? Well, no worries, the Shibu onsen and Yudanaka onsen area welcome everyone. Japanese might still look and ask you about the tattoos and try to touch them, but that’s about it. This welcoming spirit, omotenashi, is very particular for this area and by going away from this area even just a mere 30 minutes by car and it might already be completely different, so grab that chance!