Taking a trip to Japan and want to elevate your experience by going to an authentic Japanese hot spring? Here is the ultimate guide to learn how to hot spring in Japan!
An onsen with naturally sourced spring water in the mountains in Japan (Credit)
What are the different types of hot springs in Japan?
There are 3 main types of hot springs in Japan: onsens, sentos, and supersentos.
Onsens are naturally-sourced hot spring baths. They are less common in the bustling streets of the city. Onsens are always connected to a natural source of water so they are located in more mountainous areas of Japan. Foreigners and natives alike travel all over Japan to soak in the country’s most popular onsens. These include Kustatsu Onsen in Gunma, Gero Onsen in Gifu, and Dogo Onsen in Ehime. Admission into an onsen for adults usually costs up to ¥2,000. At onsens, bath-goers can take in nature and fully experience some of the best waters Japan offers.
Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma Prefecture, Japan (Credit)
Sentos, on the other hand, are on local streets and blended in among the mom-and-pop shops. Sentos use regular heated water but still offer a relaxing and calm experience. Locals hoping to get a little rest while soaking in the giant baths are their most common visitors. For an adult, admission into a sento will typically cost no more than ￥1,000. Going to a sento is a great opportunity to really experience a small glimpse of everyday life in Japan.
A local neighborhood sento in Tokyo Prefecture, Japan (Credit)
Supersentos are renovated sentos. They are redone with newer facilities and experiences. Supersentos aim to give bath-goers a new experience while bathing. This is through anything from luxury facilities to waterslides or swimming pools. They are often attached to other facilities that offer anything from massage services to food services like restaurants and even areas to nap or rest. Other than the bathing areas themselves, the shared spaces are co-ed, so supersentos would be the perfect day activity to do with family and friends. Supersentos can be considered the amusement parks of bathhouses.
Popular supersentos in Tokyo include the LaQua Spa in Tokyo Dome Park and Thermae-Yu in Shinjuku. Supersentos will usually charge ¥2,000-3,000 per adult. Supersentos also have the option of paying for short visits, day passes, and even overnight stays. It definitely could be a good alternative for someone looking for a quick place to rest and shower for a night.
LaQua Spa in Tokyo, Japan (Credit)
How to Visit a Hot Spring in Japan
Do You Need a Reservation?
Many people travel to visit onsens with connected hotels and resorts so it may help to make a reservation online in advance. However, it isn’t always required and many resorts and hotels will allow admission at the reception area.
Local folk are usually the only visitors at sentos, so a reservation isn’t necessary. They will usually have a front counter or vending machine where you can buy a ticket for entry. The same goes for supersentos as well.
Once You’ve Arrived at the Hot Spring
At the entrance of most hot spring facilities, staff will ask you to remove and leave your shoes. Many places will also have towels available for purchase or rental. Don’t forget to ask about it at the front desk!
Additionally, women and men bathe separately. This excludes hotel rooms with privately attached onsens. As seen in this photo, visitors will split off before entering the changing rooms. The blue sign on the left is for men (otoko, 男) and the right one in red is for women (onna, 女).
Japan has strict rules for people with tattoos at hot springs. For more information on tattoo-friendly hot springs, check out Looking For Tattoo-Friendly Hot Springs In Tokyo?
Basic Hot Spring Etiquette
A woman in a hot spring with a chilled towel on her head (Credit)
Onsens can understandably be a completely new and unknown experience to some, but here are some basic tips that the locals follow.
Focus on yourself
People come to the hot springs to relax and clean themselves. As cool of an experience as it might be, try to avoid staring, gawking, or invading other people’s personal space.
Don’t be nervous to show skin
Even though bathing nude in front of strangers in a huge bath might not be something that you do normally in your home country, it’s totally common in Japan and part of the onsen culture. If you follow hot spring etiquette, it will be a completely comfortable experience. Everyone is focusing on cleansing their own bodies and minds. Nobody will be staring at you as long as you’re not staring at them.
Don’t take anything into the bath
When brought into the bath, foreign objects are thought to “contaminate” the bath water. So try to avoid taking things like bath towels, slippers, hair ties, combs, etc. into the bathing area. Leave them in the changing area!
The Bathing Process
So you might be thinking, wouldn’t the bath water be dirty if everyone is soaking in it together? However, it is actually custom to bathe yourself before entering the bath itself. Hot springs will have areas right before you enter the bath to shower yourself before entering the bath itself.
Each shower area will have a faucet and a shower head, equipped with both hold and cold water, a bucket, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. The faucets will often have two levers, one for hot and cold water and one for the shower head and faucet. To operate the faucet, turn the lever one way for cold water, and the other for cold water. The same goes for the shower head and faucet lever. It is most common to sit while washing yourself. The bucket is used to rinse and to get your body adjusted to the temperature of the water.
Washing your head before entering the bath is key since it is unusual to submerge your head into the bath. People with long hair are encouraged to tie it up before entering the bath to avoid getting hair in it.
Additionally, it is popular to soak a small towel in cold water and place it on your head while in the bath to keep you from overheating or to cover some parts you might be shy about.
Once you’re ready to get out of the bath, feel free to use the amenities available in the changing room. This often includes body lotion and hairdryers. There’s no need to rush but also try not to linger.
And that’s it! I hope that this has given you a little more insight into how to hot spring in Japan! As a rule of thumb, if you’re ever unsure of anything, simply act as the locals do and you’ll be able to make the best of your experience!
A traditional Japanese onsen inn in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan (Credit)
For more information and easier access to onsen reservations, download the Ofuro App, your travel guide to the best onsen (hot springs) and bathing facilities in Japan! For more information on the Ofuro App, check it out here!