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What to do in a Japanese public bath?


Japanese public baths, known as “onsen,” are an integral part of Japanese culture. These hot springs are not only a place to cleanse your body but also a place for relaxation and socialization. However, as a foreigner, one might feel hesitant or unsure about what to do in a Japanese public bath. This informative article aims to provide comprehensive guidance on what to do in a Japanese public bath.

Research the Onsen Rules

Before visiting any onsen, research their specific rules and regulations. Each onsen has different guidelines regarding its use, such as dress code, whether tattoos are allowed, and other rules that may be enforced. It is essential to know these rules to avoid any cultural faux pas or misunderstandings.

Japanese Snack Box

Separate Baths for Men and Women

In most onsen, the baths are gender-segregated, so it’s imperative to enter the correct one. Usually, there will be separate entrances or signs indicating the men’s and women’s baths. Also, make sure that you bring a towel or rent one before entering the bath.

Undress in the Changing Room

After entering the correct bath area, it’s time to undress. Do this in the changing room provided; usually, there will be lockers or baskets for your clothes and personal belongings. You can wear a robe or “yukata” provided by the onsen if you feel uncomfortable being naked.

Shower Before Entering the Bath

Before entering the hot water bath, you must shower thoroughly using the seated showerheads or buckets provided. Use soap and shampoo to clean yourself thoroughly. This step is essential to keep the bathwater clean for others.

Enter the Hot Water Bath

After showering, it’s time to enter the hot water bath. Walk slowly and quietly into the bath area and immerse yourself up to your shoulders in the hot water. Relax and enjoy the experience.

Avoid Splashing

While inside the bath, avoid splashing water outside of the tub as it can be considered rude or disruptive. Also, refrain from using your phone or any electronic devices while inside the bath area.

Cool Down Periods

After soaking in the hot water bath for a while, consider taking a break outside of the tub area to cool down before re-entering. You can take a shower or rest on a bench while cooling down.

Try Different Baths

Many onsens have multiple types of baths with different temperatures and mineral compositions. Don’t hesitate to try them all out and see which one you enjoy most.

Don’t Stay Too Long

It is recommended not to stay in the hot water bath for more than 20 minutes at a time. Prolonged exposure can lead to dehydration or overheating.

Drink Plenty of Water

Make sure you drink plenty of water before and after entering the hot water bath. This will help you stay hydrated and avoid dehydration caused by sweating.

Enjoy Other Amenities

Many onsens offer other amenities such as saunas, steam rooms, massage services, or even restaurants. Take advantage of these amenities to enhance your overall experience at the onsen.


Visiting a Japanese public bath may seem daunting at first, but it is an excellent way to relax and experience Japanese culture. As long as you follow these guidelines and respect local customs, you will have an enjoyable time soaking in hot water surrounded by nature’s beauty.

What to expect at a Japanese bath house?

Take a bath Japanese-style Sento have separate baths for male and female guests. Inside, you will find a dressing room where you can leave your clothing and personal items. Some facilities will provide a space for you to put your things in, while others will have coin-operated lockers.

Do you wear clothes in an onsen?

In the onsen bathing areas, it is not permitted to wear clothes or bathing suits. This is because onsen are considered sacred and the cleanliness of the water is highly valued. Wearing clothes or bathing suits can introduce dirt and soap from outside, which is seen as unhygienic by the community.

How do you bathe in a Japanese bath?

In Japan, taking a bath at home is similar to soaking in a hot spring or public bath. The proper way to bathe is to rinse your body first using a shower or washbowl, and then soak only in the bathtub.

What is the etiquette in Japanese baths?

Basic rules for bathing include showering before entering the baths. At a hot spring, necessary items such as shampoo, body wash, and towels will be provided, but at a public bath, you must rent or bring your own. Every shower stall has a stool and bucket available for use, where you can sit and pour hot water over yourself.

How long should you stay in a Japanese bath?

It is recommended to bathe no more than 1-2 times per day, although those who are accustomed to Onsen can enjoy 2-3 times per day. The length of the bath depends on water temperature, but typically lasts 3-10 minutes at a time and can be extended to 15-20 minutes once acclimated.

Is it awkward in onsen?

There is no need to be concerned when visiting an onsen, as it is a tranquil and meditative environment where respect is highly valued. It is best to let go of any reservations and embrace the experience. In the past, Japanese men and women would bathe together without clothing, but this is now uncommon.

Respect Local Culture and Customs

It is essential to remember that visiting an onsen is not just about soaking in hot water. It is also a cultural experience that requires respect for local customs and traditions. When entering the onsen, make sure to keep quiet and avoid making any loud noises. Additionally, be mindful of other visitors and their personal space.

Be Mindful of Tattoos

In Japan, tattoos are often associated with the yakuza or Japanese mafia. As a result, many onsens have rules prohibiting visitors with tattoos from entering the bath area. If you have visible tattoos, it is best to check with the onsen beforehand to avoid any issues.

Don’t Bring Soap into the Bath

While it is essential to shower before entering the bath, it is not appropriate to bring soap or shampoo into the bath itself. Doing so can contaminate the water and disrupt other visitors’ experience. Instead, use the seated showerheads or buckets provided outside of the bath area.

Be Prepared for the Weather

Many onsens are located in rural areas surrounded by nature. As a result, it is essential to be prepared for the weather when visiting. During colder months, bring warm clothing and towels to dry off after soaking in the hot water. During warmer months, bring appropriate clothing for outdoor activities.

Follow Proper Etiquette in Shared Spaces

Some onsens have shared spaces such as saunas, steam rooms, or relaxation areas. When using these spaces, make sure to follow proper etiquette such as not talking on your phone or taking up too much space. Additionally, be mindful of other visitors and their personal space when using shared amenities.

Tip Your Attendants

Some onsens have attendants who assist with cleaning or provide additional services such as massages. If you receive exceptional service, it is customary to tip your attendant as a show of gratitude. Tipping varies by onsen, so be sure to check beforehand if it is appropriate.

Respect Closing Times

Many onsens have specific closing times, and it is crucial to respect them. Make sure to plan your visit accordingly and leave enough time to shower and change before closing time. Additionally, be mindful of other visitors who may need to use the facilities before closing.

Take Away Your Trash

When leaving the onsen, make sure to dispose of any trash properly. Many onsens have designated trash cans or recycling bins for visitors to use. Taking away your trash shows respect for the environment and helps keep the onsen clean for future visitors.

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