In this article, I will try to give you a complete guide for your first Onsen experience, as well as recommended Onsen locations near Tokyo, so make sure you read until the end!
What are Onsen?
Onsen (温泉) means “Hot Spring”.
Japan is considered to be one of the countries with the most abundant hot springs in the world. Japanese Onsen are formed from volcanoes which are either currently, or no longer active. The water is pure mineral water, making it very good for your health, so soaking in the hot water of Onsen is an effective method to reduce stress and increase relaxation.
Many sources of hot springs are also said to have skin beautifying effects. Bathing in Onsen is not only a popular activity for Japanese people, but they also attract many foreign tourists who want to experience the Japanese culture.
In Japan, you can easily recognize Onsen by the following kanji/symbols: 温泉 / ♨ / 湯 / ゆ.
It is usually pretty difficult to find Onsen in cities, but you may stumble across Sento（銭湯）. Similarly to Onsen, Sento are public bath-houses which also utilize large hot tubs, but they do not use natural mineral water like Onsen do. If you would like to visit an Onsen, your best course of action would be to visit rural or separate Onsen areas.
What should you know before entering an Onsen?
What to bring?
- A change of clothes for after the bath.
- A small towel for use in the bathing area.
- A large towel to dry yourself off after bathing.
Bringing along a small towel is often required. In some traditional Japanese inns called Ryokan （旅館）
or hotels, towels may be included as a part of the room service, but in accommodation which does not provide this service, you will have to purchase one yourself (available in any Don Quijote store at a lower price).
What if you have tattoos?
For those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, tattoos have a pretty negative connotation in Japan, as they are often associated with Yakuza gangs or organized crime groups. For this reason, many Onsen, Sento or even swimming pools in Japan do not allow people with tattoos to enter. Although many places are becoming more accepting of tattoos, it would be wise to contact the facility you plan to visit in advance to see if they have a policy regarding customers with tattoos or not.
If you happen to have small tattoos on your body, you can also cover them with “tattoo cover seals” which can also be found at Don Quijote stores nationwide.
Who should avoid visiting Onsen?
Those who are drunk, sick, or in the midst of their menstrual cycle should avoid visiting Onsen.
Now let’s step inside the Onsen!
How to purchase Onsen tickets
Onsen tickets are often sold in vending machines near the entrance to the facility. Some places even allow you to purchase tickets from the staff.
Enter the changing room
Onsen are usually split in to male and female sections. You can easily distinguish these sections by looking at the curtains at the entrance. Normally, the male section’s curtain is blue and has the kanji “男”, while the female section’s curtain is red and has the kanji “女” on it.
Here is a step by step process for what to do next:
Step 1: Take off your shoes before entering the changing room.
Step 2: Get a locker for yourself, and keep all of your valuable items and clothing inside.
Some places provide a basket for you to put clothes in. Do not bring your mobile phone inside, as any kind of photography/video recording is strictly prohibited.
Please note that you are not allowed to wear any clothing, including swimsuits or underwear. The only item which you may bring with you is a small towel for use inside the bathing area.
Step 3: Wash your body before entering the hot bath.
There is an area with showers, shampoo, conditioner and soap for you to wash yourself thoroughly before entering the bath. Onsen are used by everyone, so it is important to keep it clean.
Step 4: Step into the hot water bath
There are often indoor and outdoor baths, both with different temperatures for you to experience and challenge yourself in. Be careful not to soak yourself for too long, and always make sure to get out of the hot water and take a short break after 5 to 7 minutes soaking to allow your body to adjust.
One thing to note is to never let your small tower touch the water in the hot bath.
Step 5: Step out of the bath
Unless you have sensitive skin, you don’t really need to wash your body again in the shower area. Gently wipe yourself with the small towel before stepping into the dressing room.
Step 6: Dry your body
Now re-enter the dressing room and dry yourself off! Hair dryers, tissues, cotton buds and combs are often provided. Some larger Onsen even have skincare and haircare products available for use.
To have the perfect experience, always remember to drink water before and after bathing, as the bathing can dehydrate your body more than you may expect.
Famous Onsen areas near Tokyo: Hakone
Hakone is one of the most famous tourist destinations among both Japanese people and foreigners. It takes about 2 hours to from center of Tokyo. Hakone is not only attractive because of the Onsen, but it also has many other sightseeing spots and museums for you to explore. Although you can enjoy the beauty of nature in Hakone all year around, it seems to be more crowded during the momiji (紅葉) season around October – when the Japanese maple tree leaves change colors to orange or red.
Naturally, there is also a Don Quijote store nearby so that you can go shopping for souvenirs or Japanese products (see below)!
Don Quijote Odawara Store
Address: 2-8-15 Sakaecho Odawara-shi Kanagawa,JAPAN, 250-0011
TEL/FAX: 0570-043-611 / 0465-21-5322
Open Hours: 9:00～ 2:00
Directions: 5-minutes’ walk from the East Exit of Odawara JR Station
There are many rules to follow in Japanese Onsen, but armed with the information above, I hope that you will be able to enjoy Onsen without a care in the world.
Even if COVID-19 is preventing you from visiting the Onsen right now, you can still run a relaxing hot bath at home with the readily available bath bombs, bath salts or Onsen powder at Don Quijote stores nationwide. What’s more, even if you aren’t in Japan, you can still purchase bath salts from Don Quijote’s online global store: https://mpglobal.donki.com/
*Products shown on the website may be out of stock or discontinued without prior notice.
Trust me, there’s nothing better than soaking in a hot tub after a long tiring day, while listening to some music and letting all of your worries fade away♪
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