Let’s talk about proper Japanese Bath House Etiquette. Now, I am not a luxurious traveler. Loud hostel dorm rooms, red-eye flights, and uncomfortable day-long bus rides are all part of my weekly routine. One luxury I do allow myself is breathing in the steamy air and soaking in the scorching water of a hot spring, and Las Grutas Tolantongo Mexico. Or bathhouse. Sometimes we all need to wash the road off us!
Am I right?
Visiting the famed bathhouses in Japan was a huge bucket list item for me. Recently I paid a few of these bath houses a visit. I had an incredible day as I soaked in every moment of my bathhouse experience in Aomori. (pun intended) I was fresh off a plane after a whirlwind 48 hours in Tokyo. A bath was just what I needed.
And these hot spring baths, have become a part of pop culture, seen in movies like Spirited Away, and in viral articles, like the recent one about shunji tsuchimoto.
However, as travelers, there are a few rules and customs to pay attention to before visiting an Onsen or Sento (bathhouse) for the first time. They are one of the reasons I fell in love with Aomori. In this post we will talk about proper Japanese Bath House Etiquette.
Bathhouses I visited in Aomori.
What Are Japanese Bath Houses, and A Japanese Onsen
A Japanese onsen is a natural hot spring and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan. Soaking in an onsen is said to have many health benefits, such as improving circulation and relieving stress. This is a great Japanese-style public bathhouse.
There are many different types of onsen, ranging from outdoor baths in the mountains to indoor baths in hotels. Some onsen is mixed gender, while others are segregated by gender.
If you’re planning on visiting an onsen, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you’ll need to remove all clothing and wash your body thoroughly before entering the water. Second, you should never wear a swimsuit on an onsen.
And place all your belongings into the facilities’ lockers, or at the front desk before embarking on this cultural experience.
And finally, remember to be respectful of other people using the onsen. That means no splashing, no loud talking, and no diving.
Why Do People Go to Japanese Sentos?
There are many reasons people enjoy going to Japanese sentos. For some, it’s a cultural experience and a chance to relax in the hot water. For others, it’s a social event where they can catch up with friends. And for some, it’s simply a convenient and affordable way to get clean!
No matter the reason, Japanese sentos are a unique and enjoyable experience. If you’re ever in Japan, be sure to visit one! Japanese Bathing culture has become famous all around the world.
What is the Difference Between a Japanese Onsen and a Japanese Sento
When you visit Japan, you will quickly notice that there are two different types of Japanese bath houses: the onsen and the sento. Both are great destinations to relax, but there are some key differences between the two.
Onsen is bath that uses natural hot spring water, which makes them more sustainable. The onsen water is thought to have healing properties, so many people visit onsen to help with various ailments. A Japanese Sento, on the other hand, uses artificially heated water. And are more of a Japanese-style public bathhouse.
Another difference is that onsen are usually located in more rural areas and are usually independent or part of a hotel, while sento can be found in both rural and urban areas. Onsen is also generally larger and more luxurious, while a Japanese sento is more modest.
So, which should you choose? If you want to experience a traditional Japanese bath and enjoy the benefits of hot spring water, then an onsen is the way to go. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, or you’re simply in a city and can’t make it out to the countryside, then a sento is a great choice.
Temperatures in Japanese Onsen
(Baths) range from hot to very hot. The water temperature in an Onsen is usually between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius. The air temperature in the bathing area is usually about 10 degrees lower than the water temperature. This could lead to you feeling lightheaded while you are inside one of the Japanese Bath houses. Of course, the temperature varies by Onsen
Bathers in an Onsen must wash their bodies thoroughly before entering the hot water. There are usually showers located near the Onsen. Bathers first wash, then rinse off the soap before entering the Onsen.
JAPANESE BATH HOUSE ETIQUETTE
If you’re planning on visiting a Japanese bath house, there are a few things you should know about before you go. First and foremost, remember to take off your shoes before entering the bath area – this is true for all Japanese homes, not just bath houses! Once you’re inside, you’ll need to strip down completely and wash your body before getting into the baths. There will be a small stool and shower head in each cubicle for you to use. Make sure you rinse off all the soap before entering the shared baths.
When you’re in the baths, it’s important to remember to keep your voice down – this is a place for relaxation, not chatter! Also, avoid splashing water on others – it’s considered bad manners. When you’re finished, make sure you rinse off one last time before heading back to the changing area. And we go over them in detail later.
1. Do not bring any electronics with you, as most onsens do not allow for any electronic items in the baths.
2. Get naked! Onsens are nudity-friendly places, so don’t be shy about taking all your clothes off.
3. Wash your body before getting into the main bath. There are usually small showers located around the onsen for you to use.
4. Do not put any soap in the main bath.
5. Do not dunk your head under the water in the main bath.
6. Do not splash water outside of the tub.
7. Do not enter the onsen if you have any cuts or open wounds.
8. Do not bring any food or drink into the onsen.
ARE TATTOO’S ALLOWED IN A JAPANESE BATHHOUSE TATTOO’S
“Are Tattoos allowed in Japanese bath houses?”. This is probably the most common question when it comes to visiting a bathhouse. Sadly, no. If you have a tattoo most likely they will deny you entry to the bath. If the Onsen is in the hotel talk to the front desk. Visiting an onsen with tattoos will be less likely if it is a neighborhood baths, compared to a hotel onsen.
Tattoos have a bad reputation in Japan. And are often seen by the typical Japanese person, as a mark of being in the Yakuza so entering with them is not proper Japanese Bath House Etiquette. That being said there are still a few ways to visit the Japanese bath with tattoos.
A few ideas on how to visit an Onsen with a tattoo.
1- Get a concealer patch. It is possible to find patches that cover your tattoos.
2- Ask if there is an empty bath. I have a huge Sak Yant on my back and a handful of other travel tattoos. Luckily when I visited Hakkoda Hotel they had an empty bath that they let me use.
3- Some places might not mind. One bath house in Japan let me go in even without concealing my tattoos. It’s important to be polite and ask. Never just assume you can go in with tattoos.
Traditional Japanese Bath House – How Does a Typical Sento Experience Go?
Shower BEFORE ENTERING THE BATH.
There are little stools and buckets around the path. Use the bucket and nearby hose to wash and rinse yourself off before entering and exiting the bath.
Clean yourself thoroughly. The whole point of washing yourself off is to make yourself clean enough to bathe with other people.
NO CLOTHES ALLOWED
Onsen’s and Sento’s are no clothes activities. You will be naked surrounded by naked strangers. If this bothers you then you’ll need to opt for a hotel room that has a private bathhouse. However, these rooms are expensive (at least a few hundred dollars a night), and you will not get the full Onsen experience.
A much cheaper option is to cover yourself with a small towel until just before you get into the bath. Then rest the towel on your head, or around your neck until you are ready to get out.
Nowadays most Onsen and Sento have separate baths for men and women. Traditionally bath houses were mixed bathing and some of the public bathhouses still follow this. Make sure to know what type of bath you’re going into, or you could be in for a surprise.
Store Your Stuff in Japanese Bath Houses
Before entering the water in a Japanese bath house, or sento, store your belongings. These public baths are a great way to relax and unwind, and they offer a safe and secure place to leave your things while you enjoy the facilities. Most sento will have a locker room where you can store your valuables, and some even offer day-use lockers for a small fee.
Respect is a huge part of Japanese culture, and it is important to show as much respect as possible when visiting this wonderful country. This applies to a Japanese Onsen as well. Many people come to the baths to unwind and relax their minds.
Silence is appreciated but talking quietly is fine. Don’t yell across the bath, or splash around in the water. A good rule to have proper Japanese Bath House Etiquette is to imagine yourself in a flooded library.
RINSE AND REPEAT
Many of the bathhouses have a cold water pool. Once you have had enough heat, send a shock to your senses by dipping in the frigid water. You will immediately wake from your hot water coma. After the cold water jars, you awake head back to the bath, and bask in comfort as the warm water engulfs you.
LEAVE YOUR THINGS IN THE DRESSING ROOM.
Don’t stress about leaving your clothes, wallet, and phone in the changing room before entering the bath area. Theft in Japan is extremely rare. Nobody is going to take your things.
Even hiking in Aomori, I was amazed because if someone dropped something on the trail, the next person to see it would place it on a rail or rock. That way when the person came back for it they would find it easily. People respect each other too much in Japan to steal stuff.
WATCH WHAT OTHER PEOPLE DO
If in doubt mimic your neighbors. If you are worried, you are doing something wrong just imitate the people around you, and you will be okay.
An Onsen is a great traditional experience to have when traveling in Japan. And one of my favorite experiences since starting this travel blog. This mini-guide will help you be prepared for what is expected when taking a Japanese bath and help you get the most out of your time.
Your Questions About Visiting Japanese Bath Houses
Do I Have to Wash First?
Most public bath houses in Japan will have a sign outside indicating whether you are supposed to wash your body before entering the baths (内湯) or not. If the sign has an image of a person washing their body, then it means you are supposed to wash first. If there is no image, then you can just go straight into the baths.
Are Japanese Sentos and Bath Houses Separated by Gender?
In Japan, sentos (public bath houses) are typically separated by gender, with women bathing on one side and men on the other. There are also mixed-gender sentos, but these are less common. While bathing in a sento is usually a social activity, some people may prefer to use them for hygiene reasons.
Can You Wear a Bathing Suit In Japanese Bath Houses or Sento?
Some people may be surprised to learn that you generally cannot wear a bathing suit in a sento. Most people bathe naked. This may seem strange to foreigners, but it is quite normal in Japan. In Japanese culture, people are not as concerned about nudity as they are in other cultures.
Can You Talk In Japanese Bath Houses?
As with any social situation in Japan, certain etiquette rules should be followed when using a public bath house. One of the most important things to remember is that you should always be quiet when using the facilities. This means no talking, laughing, or making any other noise that might disturb other guests.
Another important rule is to make sure that you thoroughly clean yourself before entering the baths. This means washing your body and hair thoroughly before getting in the water. There are usually showers and shampoo/soap dispensers available for guests to use. Once you’re clean, you can enjoy the baths!
How Much Do Japanese Sentos Cost?
The cost of using a sento in Japan varies depending on the location, but it is generally between 500 and 1000 yen ($5-10 USD) for a day pass. This price includes the use of all the facilities, such as baths, saunas, and relaxation areas. Many sentos also have massage services, cafes, and other amenities that may cost extra. A
How is a Japanese Public Bath Different From a Sauna
A Japanese public bath is quite different from a sauna, and not just because of the culture. In a public bath, you are usually required to be naked, while in a sauna you can wear a bathing suit. In a public bath, you will sit on a small stool and wash before getting into the bath, while in a sauna you will just sit or lie down. The temperature in a public bath is also usually hotter than in a sauna. A sauna is also more of a steam room. And not all of them have a public bath or private bath.
List of Best Bath Houses In Japan
1. J-List – Bathhouse in Beppu
2. Tsuboyu – Snow-viewing bath in Kusatsu Onsen
3. Kannawa-yu – Beppu’s famous mud baths
4. Yukemuri-no-Sato – Outdoor bath with a view of Mt. Aso
5. Yunessun – Wacky spa resort with food-themed baths
6. Ibusuki Sunaburo – Sand baths in Ibusuki
7. Spa Resort Hawaiians – Tropical-themed bath house in Miyazaki
8. Spa World – Huge bath complex in Osaka
9. Tenyu – Luxurious bath house in Kyoto
10. Dormy Inn Premium – Relaxing hot springs in Hakone
Japan is much more than the beautiful blue mountains, or Mount Fuji. (Though there are some Onsen‘s by mt fuji).
But visiting onsen town, neighborhood baths, or a sento is an amazing experience worth your time!