Hot springs (Onsen) and Public baths (Sento) are one of my favorite Japanese culture which I would like to leave to the future. So many foreign travelers also came when I visited to hot springs resorts all over Japan. I am very glad to share the wonderful culture with them, but I sometimes encountered regretful scenes of their poor manners there. Of course, I don’t intend to criticize foreign visitors and maybe some people with poor manners just didn’t know basic manners and how to behave there. It is also sure that there are some Japanese people who behave impolitely. Therefore, I let you know 10 suggestions of basic manners in order to have fun and relaxing time with both foreign tourists and local Japanese there.
1: It is generally prohibited to wear a basing suit
You are not allowed to wear any basing suite there in Japan. It must be a high wall for you to be naked in front of others and to overcome your embarrassment, however, you can change your world which you never had once you beat it. In case of mixed bathing where we can find many in the Northern part in Japan, ladies sometimes are allowed to use bath towels or specific cloths called “Yuami-gi” to cover thier bodies. (Sorry, men is not ususally allowed to use anything even mixed hot springs). It seems almost the same situations of nudist beaches in some Western countries, maybe?…although I never experienced it.)
2: Don’t spread your belongings on the floor in a dressing room and occupy others’ spaces too much
I sometimes witnessed that some, even Japanese, were spreading their bags, towels, clothes on the floor, which made me hard to find where I can walk in the limited space. Please keep a rocker or a basket per person and be careful not to invade others’ spaces.
3: Ladies who have a long hair had better tie up your hair before getting into a bathroom
In order to keep clean, you had better tie up your hair for avoiding from dipping your hair into hot water in the bathtub. Some facilities prepare for amenity goods for ladies such as hair rubbers and shower caps in case you don’t want to wash your hair.
4: Don’t bring your bath towel in the bathroom, leave it at dressing room
I also encountered the scene that some tourists brought bath towels together in a bathroom and put them here and there. Generally, hot spring facilities provide you a bath towel (large one) and a body towel (small one) for free or rental. Please keep large one in your rocker for using after leaving a bathroom and use small one for washing and wipe your body. Especially in western countries, you have a custom that you just wipe by dry towel soon after taking a shower, but Japanese do in a different way. We wipe drops on the body with wet towel first, then use dry towel to finish. (In case of public baths, Sento, you have to bring them by yourself.)
5: Pour hot water on the body and wash your body before getting into a bathtub
Enter a bathroom, you can find a tank with full of hot water whose temperature is slightly lower than that in bathtubs, which is for getting accustomed your body to hot water. So, let’s pour hot water on the body several times by a bucket and go to a washing place. You have to wash your body before getting into bathtubs in order to share bathtubs.
6: Don’t occupy a washing space for a long time and put all equipment to their original locations for others
Washing area has divided into several individual washing spaces with a tap, a shower, a bucket, a small chair and some amenities such as body soap, shampoo and conditioner. (In case of Sento, you have to bring your own amenities or buy a small kit.) After using them, keep in mind to put all equipment to their original locations for the next person to use. The spaces are sometimes crowded by people, so wash your body quickly and yield there to others.
7: Don’t soak your towel in a bathtub
You may want to cover your body with a towel, however, you are not allowed to soak your towel in bathtubs for reason of hygiene. Just put your towel on the edge of bathtub or put it on your head. In addition, putting towel on the head prevents you from feeling dizzy while you are in hot waters.
8: Don’t be too noisy and romp around the area, be calm and enjoy relaxing atmosphere there
Although it is a quite rare case, I saw some foreigners were so excited and were shouting and splashing hot water on each other by shower, even they are adults…Their poor-mannered behaviors bothered others and made me disappointed at that time. We would like to share the comfortable atmosphere and moments with others, so let’s enjoy calm and relaxing time and atmosphere together. Of course, it is not polite to swim in a bathtub although it is an open-air and very wide like a swimming pool.
9: Wipe your body with a towel before leaving the bathroom
It is very annoying and uncomfortable if it is wet so much on the floor of a dressing room, so that please wipe your body with a small towel before leaving a bathroom. In case of Hot Springs, in Particular, your body will get dry quickly without using a bath towel once you wipe your body with a small one.
These suggestions are all from my actual experiences. Japanese cultures are based on caring for others and hot springs and public baths are not exceptions. Although I suggested many “Do Not Things” here, I am very glad if you keep in mind and follow these basic manners when you go there. Actually, communication over hot springs and public baths are so interesting and I always enjoy chatting with local people there. So, I hope you can have a precious experience and adventure which is very different from yours.
Lastly, hot springs and public baths in Japan are basically not tattoo-friendly, so that people who have a tattoo on the body may be refused to enter there whoever you are. (I found a very good article in English that why Japanese tend not to accept people with tattoo there. Click here if you are interested in.) I am sorry for that, however, I heard some facilities have changed their policies or provide seals for concealing tattoos to such people, so you can check information on their website or ask them through inquiry about it. The situations about the issue will be gradually changing according to increasing the number of foreign people who want to enjoy!!