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japan guide by Remoju

Hot Spa - Onsen

Reported by Lachy

Relax Your Tired Muscles in Natural Hot Spring Water !

The Japanese onsen, or perhaps more commonly known overseas simply as hot springs are among the most popular and most feared aspects of Japanese culture by foreign travelers. To the initiated, there is nothing better than relaxing in the comfortably hot waters. With the average onsen being around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), it is quite a bit warmer than what us westerners are used to bathing in.  For the first time onsen go-er, there is probably nothing more daunting than the idea of strutting around a bath house completely naked, surrounded by complete and utter strangers. I too was quite uneasy before my first onsen visit, but ever since that fateful day on an island to the north of Hokkaido (Rebun Island for those interested), I have been absolutely hooked.


More Than Just a Spa

What separates an onsen form a regular spa, other than the temperature and the nakedness, is the atmosphere. A spa can be used for fun, while onsen are almost entirely dedicated to relaxation. In order to be officially classified as an onsen, it must contain at least one of several different naturally occurring elements in the water, as well as meet a temperature benchmark. These natural minerals, combined with the temperature of the water is said to be incredibly good for one’s health and it is traditionally believed that the onsen waters have healing properties.




I'm meant to do what now?

Like a lot of things with Japanese culture, there is a specific way in which one is supposed to bathe in an onsen. That being, that you must wash your body BEFORE actually entering the bath itself. This is done at small showers with stools, usually stocked with shampoo, conditioner, and body soap free to use for all visitors. This is done in order to preserve the purity of the bath water, as in Japan, the bath itself is not used for bathing, but is instead used for relaxing both the body and mind.

Don't Worry, Just Relax!

The prospect of bathing in an onsen is of course always a rather scary proposition for anyone at first. However, for first timers I recommend going with some friends to help ease into the situation. Even better, maybe get a little bit of a buzz from the alcohol section at your nearest convenience store. But be careful of drinking too much before entering the bath, it is actually surprisingly dangerous as the light headedness inducing steam and the intoxicating effects of the alcohol are a recipe for drowning.

After you've finished in the onsen, be sure to cap off the experience with a bottle of milk or a can of beer, both of which are almost always sold either over the counter of the onsen itself, or from a  vending machine located at the exit to the bathing rooms.