How To: Japanese Hot Springs

· hot springs,onsen

Japanese hot springs, or onsen, are my absolute favorite thing about Japan. I can spend hours going from pool to pool - all with different temperatures and mineral content. Some onsen even have saunas, steam rooms, cold plunge pools, and salt scrub rooms. For me, nothing beats soaking in an outdoor onsen, gazing up at the stars.

But I also remember, on my first trip to Japan, being confronted with my first onsen and having no idea what to do. So, how do you bathe like a local?

Step 1: Get Naked

After storing your shoes in a locker and purchasing your entrance ticket (if you're going to a public bath rather than one at your ryokan), you'll head into one of the gender-separated locker rooms. Here, get naked! Hot springs are always enjoyed nude in Japan. If you have visible tattoos, these must always be covered with band-aids when entering the hot springs. For those with harder to hide tattoos, private or family baths should be used rather than the public baths.

Step 2: Wash

From the locker room, you'll head into the shower area of the onsen. While many guests bring their own soaps and shampoos from home, you'll usually find body wash, shampoo, and conditioner (sometimes translated as hair rinse in Japan) provided at each shower station, along with a small stool and basin. Wash your body and hair thoroughly before entering the onsen. If you have long hair, make sure to tie it up so that it doesn't touch the water while you're soaking.

shower area at an onsen

Step 3: Soak

Finally, the hot springs themselves! Most onsen boast at least 2 or 3 different soaking pools, each with different water temperatures and mineral content. Soak in each as long as you like, and in any order you prefer! Many choose to cover up (somewhat) with a small hand towel when moving from pool to pool, but these towels should never enter the water. Instead, tie or fold it on your head, or simply lay it to the side of the pool as you enter.

Step 4: Eat

After getting dressed back at the locker room, head to the dining area for a popular post-onsen treat: ice cream, udon noodles, or a glass of flavored vinegar to help your skin glow! If you're staying at a ryokan, or traditional inn, you'll be served a multi-course dinner after your soak.