There’s no doubt people in Japan love dipping in hot springs, especially on a cold day. However, if it’s your first time in the country, public baths may feel very much out of your comfort zone, and the correct manners might be difficult to navigate. So, here is a quick guide to hopefully give you a little courage to experience this centuries-old tradition for yourself. You can do it!
No swimming wear (unless otherwise indicated)
Most of the time, you will enter hot springs without any clothes. Understandably, this is probably the part that might make you feel most nervous, but let me assure you that hot springs are very non-judgmental spaces. Once you are able to overcome the initial nervousness of sharing a bath with others, I am positive that you will realize people are really just there to spend a relaxing and quiet time–completely minding their own business!
Hot springs are for soaking, not cleaning (or swimming!)
Before entering the hot spring, it is important to wash yourself thoroughly so that you are clean when entering the communal bath. There are typically multiple showers, each with a stool to sit on while you wash, a bucket for pouring water over yourself if you wish, and a set of soaps. Once you’re in the bath, please be mindful of others and refrain from splashing or swimming.
Generally, you will have two towels. One is a smaller towel with a thin fabric that you can use for scrubbing while taking a shower, wiping off sweat or covering yourself if that makes you feel more comfortable. Since this is your personal towel, please be mindful not to accidentally soak it in the communal bath in order to make sure the water is clean for everyone’s use. The quintessential onsen way is to fold your towel and place it on your head to keep it out of the water.
Once you’re done, use the other full-sized towel to dry off in the changing room. Usually, there is a large bath mat by the doors as you exit the bathing area into the changing room. It is best to dry off as much as you can there so that you don’t wet the floors as you walk over to the rack where you left your clothes.
It is up to you to decide how long you want to stay in the hot spring, but the average is about 15 minutes.
It is best to take off jewelry and leave it with your clothes in the changing room because some metals can become damaged due to the natural chemicals in the hot springs.
The hot spring water can be quite hot especially in winter so it is totally acceptable for you to soak your whole body for just a few minutes, then sit on the ledge to cool off, and repeat for however many times you wish.
The changing rooms and hot springs are almost always divided between women and men. Generally, the color of the curtain at the entrance of the changing rooms will indicate which is which–red for women, blue for men.
Here at Ashizuri Kokusai Hotel, the natural hot springs are rich in a mineral called radon, which is said to have all kinds of positive health effects including boosting immunity. Come stay here at the southernmost point of Shikoku, rejuvenate in the outdoor bath with a breathtaking Pacific Ocean view and savor a delicious feast in your exquisite traditional Japanese-style room
Now, let me ask you! What was your first hot spring experience in Japan like?