The Japanese love to relax and soak in the onsen (hot springs) especially during the cold winter season. Unlike other countries that have public bathing wearing swim suits, the Japanese bathe in the onsens naked.
Most onsens have separate areas for male and female.
Male baths – otoko-buro
Female baths – onna-buro
And there are also konyoku or mixed baths, but they are not as common.
At the Onsen
Most onsens provide body soap and shampoo, and most onsens also sell souvenir face towels, so you could go empty handed to enjoy the experience. Though most people bring with them a small bag with a change of underwear and large body towel.
At the changing room
First, undress, leaving your clothes and belongings in the shelf (some have baskets in the shelves). Also leave the body towel in the shelf, which you’ll use to dry your body after you leave the bathtub. It’s generally safe to leave your clothes in the shelves, but if you have valuables (money, jewellery etc.), it is recommended to leave them in the lockers.
Before entering the onsen bathtub
Wash and scrub your body and hair before entering the bathtub. There is usually an allocated washing area with a stool and wash basin. Wash sitting down to avoid splashing other people. Most onsens will have body wash and shampoo.
If you have long hair, tie it up after it is washed to avoid your hair from dipping into the onsen water.
If you are a big shy, use the towel to cover up when moving around the onsen.
Entering the onsen bath tub
Soak in and enjoy.
Do not put the towel in the bath tub onsen water, as the onsen is for soaking in only.
Remember, no soap or shampoo in the bathtub. Wash your body and hair before entering the onsen bath tub.
Some onsens have several baths for you to try. Feel free to try them all, especially the ro-ten-buro (outdoor bath).
Leaving the onsen
Dry your body in the changing room and get dressed. Don’t forget your belongings if you left them in the locker.
When you leave the changing room, you will often see a small fridge with small bottles of milk or milk coffee. It is usually a custom to drink milk or milk coffee after entering the bath to cool down.
Note that there are still many Japanese onsens that do not allow people entering who have tattoos. Check first if you plan to visit an onsen and you also have a tattoo.