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This is the ultimate guide on "Japan Hot Springs - how to" where we explain and show in pictures how to use and enjoy a Japanese Hot Springs.
In Japan a "Hot Springs Bath" is called an "Onsen" (in Japanese; 温泉). Most foreigners do not know this but "going to the onsen" in Japan is the BIGGEST and most popular destination spot for Japanese people. There are thousands of onsen ryokans and hotels from the northern most parts of Japan to Okinawa. If you ask me (the owner of SnapJapan.com), staying at a traditional ryokan with an onsen is the best "tourist" thing you can do. Temples and shrines are great, castles are awesome and Japanese food is incredible but staying the night in a beautiful hundreds of years old ryokan, soaking in an onsen and drinking a Japanese beer is... the best!
Please, please, PLEASE respect the Japanese culture and onsen "method". As Japan's tourist visitation increases, there have been accounts of foreign visitors causing stress among Japanese ryokan and hotel owners. In return, some places have tightened rules, restricted access and ended long time tradition because foreigners were causing problems. An example being "Mixed Baths". Most all of these have disappeared because of bad manners... there are only a few left and even those have been getting pressure to end the tradition because of foreign guests. If you see bad manners at a Japanese onsen, say something or let the owners know... please, let's keep the amazing places the amazing places they are!
The following images and text explain how to use a Japanese hot springs... or, "Onsen" as you have learned.
#1 - If your staying at a Ryokan (or Hotel with an Onsen), put on your Yukata (they will have one prepared for you in your room), grab a towel and head down to the bath wearing your indoor Geta (slippers). If your not staying at the ryokan/hotel and are just coming for a "day bath", just bring in your towels and remove your shoes when you get to the prep-room.
#2 - When entering the bath area, remove your Geta before stepping up onto the Tatami mat. Be sure to enter the correct bath for your gender. Typically "Blue" is for men and "Red" is for women. For men the Japanese character will be "男" and for women "女".
#3 - In the prep-room there will be shelves with baskets. Put your personal items into a basket.
#4 - Head on down to the bath. There may be many baths but typically there is an indoor bath and an outdoor bath.
#5 - Oh no! Did you wear a swimsuit!? Can't do that... in Japan you enter baths naked! Remove all clothing and put in the basket before heading out to a bath.
#6 - If you are shy and feel like you need to cover or hide your procreation parts, either wrap a towel around your waist or hold it in front like a shield.
#7 - always, Always, ALWAYS clean your body BEFORE getting into the onsen bath.
#8 - Don't just do a quick clean off. Scrub and scrape all surface areas and inner areas, 3 times! We all share the bath with other folk so please make yourself squeaky clean.
#9 - Completely rinse all the soap off your body before entering the onsen bath.
#10 - You should NOT put your "hiding towel" in the onsen bath water. Remove the towel and set it on the side of the bath before getting in.
#11 - Soak and enjoy.
There are plenty of onsen areas around all the major cities in Japan. As suggested above, actually staying at a Ryokan with an onsen would be an incredible experience but most all ryokans and hotels offer a "day pass"... or, there are usually Public Baths in the onsen areas as well.
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