Japanese Bath Etiquette for Onsens and traditional Japanese baths
If it is your first time using an onsen or traditional Japanese style bath, it can feel a little daunting in terms of making sure you know the right etiquette. Here’s a simple “how to use” guide so you can feel comfortable and enjoy your onsen bath.
An onsen is a natural hot spring bath. You will find this in many places across all of Japan, whether in a ryokan, hotel or bath house. They do tend to be communal baths but some ryokans may also have private onsens in each room. The Japanese however do love their baths and even though certain places you stay at may not have hot spring water, they will still have a traditional Japanese style bath so you can have a good hot soak to ease away the day’s aches and strains.
When going to a “day onsen” i.e. to a bath house or ryokan to use their onsen facilities, there is usually a reception desk where you can pay a small fee. If you haven’t brought your towel, this is usually where you can also request for one and most places will charge a small fee for the use of the towels. There are two types of towels on offer - the large bath towel and a small hand towel. The large bath towel is for drying off after your bath. The small one is usually taken to the bath for cleaning and for modesty!
When you enter the room, there is always a change area first, then a door that leads to the shower area followed by the bath area. In the change area, there are usually shelves with baskets. Pick one and this is where you can undress and store your belongings. As Japan is safe and has a trust system, lockers are not always available. Once you have undressed, if you have a small hand towel, you can take this with you to the shower area. The bath towel is left in the basket.
The shower area will have a few hand showers lined up along the wall. There will also be a little stool and a small wash bucket with each shower. Pick one, sit on the stool and have your shower. It is important to have a good thorough wash so your body is clean to enter the onsen. After you’re done with your shower, give your area a quick wash down and then head over to the baths.
In larger places such as in a hotel or ryokan, there are usually a few onsen baths on offer. There could be one or two indoor baths with different temperatures and an outdoor bath. Some people like having a soak in the indoor baths first before they move to the outdoor bath. Some prefer to go straight to the outdoor bath or some like to just stay indoors. It’s all up to your preference! If you are bringing the small hand towel with you to the bath, do note that the towel is not allowed to go into the onsen water. Some people use it for cleaning during their shower and then use it at the bath to place on their heads as they find this relaxing. Some use it for modesty. If so, place the towel on the side of the bath while you are in it. Enjoy your soak in the bath quietly. If you are with friends and want a chat, it is polite to do so in low voices so as not to disturb the people around you.
After you’ve had a good soak, have a shower down and then use your small hand towel to give your body a quick wipe so you’re not dripping wet when you go to the change room. Back in the change room you can dry off fully with the bath towel and put your clothes back on. The towels can be dropped into the towel bins in the change area.
One very important thing to remember, NO photo taking is allowed in the shower and bath area.