Onsen Etiquette

Tips for first timers heading to an Onsen
THU 18 OCT 2018


Japan's volcanic terrain means there's no shortage of natural hot springs, called onsen in Japanese. Onsen are not only great for relaxation, but claim to provide other health benefits too. Here are some tips for first-timers:

  • Onsen are generally gender separated, usually marked with a red curtain for women and blue curtain for men. This can change throughout the day, so be careful!
  • When entering the onsen, there will be a change room with wicker basket shelves or lockers. This is where you undress. You can't wear swimmers and you can only take a small (modesty) towel with you into the bathing area.
  • The first thing you'll see is the shower/bathing area. Sit on a stool and clean yourself from top to toe, ensuring all soap/shampoo has been rinsed off. 
  • Now head to the baths. If you have long hair, it's better if it's tied up so it doesn't go in the water. Look for the rotenburo (outdoor bath) as they have the best views. It can feel a bit funny going outside completely nude, but it's worth it!
  • Keep your small towel to the side, out of the water. You can even place it on your head if you like.

Please note, most onsen do not permit guests with tattoos to use the baths. To get around this, guests should be booked in ryokan with in-room baths, rent out a private bath (called kashikiri), or if their tattoos are small enough to be covered up, skin-coloured tattoo seals (covers) can be bought from drugstores, allowing them to enter the large baths.

Here are some links that list tattoo-friendly onsen, as well. (Note that All Blacks Tours does not necessarily endorse these sites and the information should be verified directly with properties before recommending them to your clients.)
- Tattoo-Friendly.jp
- Tsunagu Japan: 8 Hot Springs & Bathhouses That Even Those With Tattoos Can Enter
- Live Japan: Tattoo-Friendly Hot Springs and Sento in Tokyo