A visit to one of Japan’s many onsen is an experience like no other around the world, but doing so comes with a number of cultural observances you want to be aware of. Luckily, your onsen host will have your comfort and relaxation as their number one priority; however, it still helps to be aware of the basic customs. That way, you can make the most of the experience and give in to total relaxation, without a care in the world.
The first thing you may need to wrap your head around is in the majority of onsen, visitors go about completely nude. There is a long tradition of cultural understanding about the naked body and onsen, and remember everyone else is naked too. You will be issued a small towel for modesty as you walk about between the change room, washing facilities, and hot springs. There are of course exceptions, so if you’re feeling rather modest, look out for onsen which permit bathing suits.
Secondly, make sure you wash before you enter the water. The charming little stools near the baths are there for you to sit on and wash your entire body with soap – remember to wash all the soap off as the hot spring water you enter must be kept soap-free.
Your modesty towel should never be wrung out in the hot spring water, or soaked in it. Some patrons like to keep their towel on their head, or on a nearby rock. If your towel happens to fall in the water, pull it out immediately.
It may be tempting to frolic about in the hot springs, especially if they bubble, however keep in mind the onsen is a space for healing and reflection. Sitting peacefully and allowing the calming power of the water to relax you is what they are there for.