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Are public baths in Japan sanitary?


Public baths, or onsen, are an integral part of Japanese culture. They are known for their relaxing properties and are a popular tourist attraction. However, many people question the sanitary conditions of these baths. In this article, we will explore whether public baths in Japan are sanitary or not.

History of Public Baths in Japan

Public baths have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries. The earliest records of communal bathing date back to the Nara period (710-794). These first baths were used primarily by Buddhist monks and nobility, but over time became accessible to the general public.

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Sanitary Regulations in Public Baths

To ensure the safety and cleanliness of public baths, there are strict regulations that must be followed. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare enforces a set of standards that require regular water quality testing, proper filtration systems, and adequate hygiene facilities.

Water Quality Standards

The water in public baths must meet certain quality standards to ensure the safety of bathers. The water is regularly tested for bacteria and other harmful substances. If the water does not meet these standards, the bath must be closed until the issue is resolved.

Cleaning Procedures

Public baths are cleaned multiple times throughout the day to maintain sanitary conditions. After each guest finishes bathing, the tubs are drained and thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant. The floors and walls are also scrubbed down with cleaning solutions.

Hygiene Facilities

Public baths are required to provide guests with adequate hygiene facilities such as soap, shampoo, and disposable razors. Guests are also required to wash themselves thoroughly before entering the bath.

Bathing Etiquette

There are certain rules that guests must follow when using public baths in Japan. For example, guests must always wash themselves before entering the bath, they should not enter the bath with any open wounds, and they should not bring any food or drinks into the bath area.

Types of Public Baths

There are different types of public baths in Japan, each with their own unique features. Some baths may be more sanitary than others based on their design and location.

Outdoor Baths

Outdoor baths, or rotenburo, can be found in many public bathhouses in Japan. While these baths offer a unique experience, they may be less sanitary than indoor baths due to exposure to the elements.

Private Baths

Some public bathhouses offer private baths that can be reserved for a fee. These private baths may be more sanitary than communal ones since they are only used by one group at a time.

Public Bathhouse Reviews

Many public bathhouses in Japan have online reviews that can give insight into their sanitary conditions. Reading reviews from other visitors can help determine which bathhouses are more sanitary than others.


In conclusion, public baths in Japan are generally very sanitary due to strict regulations and cleaning procedures. While there may be some variation depending on the type and location of the bathhouse, overall they offer a safe and relaxing experience for those who visit them.

Is public bathing normal in Japan?

Public bathing began in the sixth century, but it wasn’t until the Edo period (1603-1868) that bathhouses became popular in Japan. Because homes did not have private baths, each neighborhood had a public bath. This communal bathing space has since become an important part of bathing culture in Japan.

Is mixed bathing allowed in Japan?

Tokyo banned mixed-gender bathing in the early 1900s and the ban remains in place today. However, there are a few exceptions in the central region of Kanto, such as Gunma or Tochigi, which are ideal for a day trip.

What do you wear in a Japanese public bath?

When visiting an onsen, it is important to remember that no clothing, including swimwear, underwear, or towels, should come in contact with the water. Only a freshly washed, nude body is allowed.

Why do Japanese love public bath?

In Japan, there was a time when many homes did not have bathtubs. To address this, people would visit neighborhood public baths called “sentō,” where they could clean themselves, relax in a tub, and catch up with their neighbors.

What to expect in a Japanese bathhouse?

Japanese baths often include saunas, areas for relaxation, vending machines for refreshments, and some even offer additional services like massages, restaurants, and overnight accommodations. For those on a budget, it is possible to stay overnight in Japan by sleeping in reclining chairs or tatami rest rooms at bathhouses that are open all night.

Are Japanese bathhouses clean?

Before entering a communal or individual bathtub, it is recommended to wash outside the tub to ensure cleanliness. There is a designated washing area with a stool, wash pan, and individual showers available.

It is important to note that while public baths in Japan are generally very sanitary, it is still important for visitors to practice good hygiene habits. Guests should be sure to wash themselves thoroughly before entering the bath and avoid bringing any food or drinks into the bath area. It is also recommended to avoid using any public bath if you have any open wounds or contagious skin conditions.

Additionally, it is worth noting that many public baths in Japan have implemented additional safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some bathhouses may limit the number of visitors allowed inside at one time, require guests to wear masks, or provide hand sanitizer throughout the facility. Visitors should consult with the specific bathhouse they plan to visit for information on their current safety protocols.

Overall, public baths in Japan offer a unique cultural experience that should not be missed. By following basic hygiene practices and choosing reputable bathhouses with positive reviews, visitors can enjoy a safe and relaxing soak in these traditional communal spaces.

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