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So, you’ve decided you want to visit Japan and you want to experience all that this culturally rich country has to offer. You read about an “onsen” (Japanese hot spring) and thought “Ooohh! A Japanese spa! I must go!” First off, you’re right. You MUST go. Secondly, hold on to your britches (actually, ditch those – you won’t need them), because there is a lot you must know before visiting an onsen.
With over 2,500 onsens in Japan, it’s not difficult to find one to visit. They can be found in traditional Japanese inns, hotels, or day spas for a simple day time trip. Simply pick your budget, decide how much time you’d like to spend on your outing, then get to researching which onsen to visit. Here is a great list of recommended onsens.
You probably already know that the Japanese culture is incredibly polite, and its people are typically extremely traditional in their manners. This may make visiting a quiet onsen intimidating, as you do not want to offend the other visitors. Have no fear! Listed below are five do’s a don’ts for your first onsen trip to ensure that you get the ultimate cultural experience.
1) DO TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES COMPLETELY
I’m going to repeat that, because I am sure you think you didn’t read it right. Take. Off. Your. Clothes. Completely. This includes jewelry. And no, you cannot wear a bathing suit. The Japanese are incredibly adamant about keeping onsen water completely clean, thus it can be frowned upon if even your towel touches the hot spring. Don’t worry, the onsen will have a locker room area where you can undress and store your belongings before entering the hot spring area.
2) DON’T FEEL INSECURE
Although Japanese people are typically extremely modest, they have no issue undressing at an onsen – and neither should you! No one will stare, judge, or discriminate against you, and the vast majority of onsens separate the male and female sections so you don’t need to worry about being with the opposite sex. Strip down and own it, girlfriend! It’s not like you’re going to see anyone you know.
3) DO SHOWER
The onsen will either provide private showers, or more likely a communal shower area. Remember how I said no one will stare, judge, or discriminate? That is only if you shower! It’s important to wash your hair and body to make sure you’re completely clean before taking your relaxing dip.
4) DON’T RUN, JUMP, SKIP, SPLASH, YELL OR BE OBNOXIOUS
You wouldn’t want some rude foreigner disrupting your Swedish massage, would you? Use the same respect at an onsen. If you are with a friend, keep your conversation quiet and at a minimum. Don’t splash, giggle, stare, or do anything that may disrupt the peace of those around you.
5) DO SOAK IT ALL IN
Pun intended. Onsens are beautiful and relaxing, but even more so than that, they are full of skin pampering minerals to give you that spa-day glow. They’re even believed to remedy health concerns, alleviate chronic stress, and reverse aging!
Whether you are visiting an onsen for the cultural experience, the relaxation, or both: enjoy it! It’s an incredible experience that your friends and family will love hearing about and you’ll love remembering.