Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Onsen An onsen _温泉_ is a natural_ mineral rich Japanese hot


  • pg 1
									                                                                                           WH/PV, 06.03.2007


                          An onsen (温泉) is a natural, mineral rich Japanese hot spring. Many of the
                          springs have an associated outdoor bath (rotenburo (露天風呂) or notenburo
                          (野天風呂) and/or indoor bath. The rotenburo offers the exquisite charms of
                          lounging in a hot spring set in a landscape, making you feel a part of nature.
                          Bathing at onsens is a centuries old tradition in Japan that shows no sign of
                          abating, in fact, it is probably more popular than ever.

                          Baths may be either public run by a municipality or private (uchiyu (内湯)) often
                          run by a local inn (ryokan (旅館)) or B&B (minshuku (民宿)). Onsens can be
                          simple open-air pools near rolling rivers, little rickety huts on lonely mountains,
                          gorgeous traditional inns (ryokan) or modern sprawling complexes.

Onsens are often found out in the countryside, and are a major tourist attraction drawing Japanese
couples, families or company groups who want to get away from the hectic life of the city to relax.
Japanese often talk of the virtues of 'naked communion' (裸の付き合い hadaka no tsukiai)) for breaking
down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of an onsen inn. Most onsen
now have separate male and female bathing areas, but you can still find some that have mixed bathing -
some require bathing suits and others not.

The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or the Chinese
character 湯 (for hot water).

                                         Onsen Characteristics

Onsens by definition use naturally hot water from geothermally-heated springs. Onsen should be
differentiated from sento, indoor public bath houses in the city where the baths are filled with heated tap

Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. A particular onsen may
feature several different baths, each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath
tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made
with tile, acrylic or stainless steel.

Many bathers come for an hour or so to soak in the water, even if they do not stay. Food also plays an
important part in the attraction of a particular inn. While other services like massages may be offered, the
main reason most people visit the onsen is to enjoy the baths.

People often travel to onsens with work colleagues, as the relaxed and open atmosphere helps to break
down some of the hierarchical stiffness inherent in Japanese work life. However, most visitors to onsens
are not work groups but friends, couples and families. It is not unusual to see a father or mother
introducing a small child to the onsen for the first time. Very small children of either sex up to about 10
years old can often be seen in both male and female baths. Mixed-sex bathing is a tradition that persists
at onsens in the more rural areas of Japan, although these days there is usually a separate bath for
women only in addition to the mixed bath, or a time period designated for female-only bathing.

One problem to be aware of is that many onsens do not allow people with tattoos to bathe, so be sure to
check this out with them first to avoid problems later.

                                           Onsen Etiquette

Ensuring Cleanliness

At an onsen, guests are expected to wash their bodies and rinse themselves thoroughly before entering
the hot water. The indoor baths have faucets with removable shower heads and stools to sit on, for
showering and shampooing.


Onsen guests generally bring a small towel with them to use as a washcloth. The towel can also provide
a modicum of modesty when walking between the washing area and the baths. When an onsen prohibits
wearing of towels in the water, people normally set them off to the side when enjoying the baths. Some
people place their folded towels on top of their heads.


Onsens are generally considered a respite from the hectic pace of life and consequently they are usually
fairly quiet. However, sometimes bathers will engage in conversation in this relaxed situation.

                               Bathrooms – Luxurious and Spacious

                                   Guests coming to stay at a ryokan truly look forward to taking a
                                   bath as part of their travels. Lounging in a spacious bathtub
                                   soothes away daily fatigue and stress. Japan, which is a volcanic
                                   archipelago, is known worldwide for its many hot springs (onsen).
                                   People often travel to hot springs hoping to be refreshed both
                                   mentally and physically, in other words, to benefit from the
                                   therapeutic effects of the hot spring (known as toji).

                    Another of the charms of hot springs is the magnificent landscape from the
                    bathroom. The outdoor scenery comes in a rich variety of the sea, mountains and
                    rivers, forests, bamboo groves, valleys, and so on.

The Furoban (attendant in charge of the bathroom) regularly checks the quality and
the quantity of the bath water and always keeps the bathroom and the dressing
room clean so that the guests can enjoy bathing in a pleasant atmosphere.

                        A morning bath is a luxury unique to a ryokan. Immersing yourself quietly in
                        the open-air bath in the morning mist, your mind and body will gradually start
                        to awaken.

                                 Private Open-air Hot Spring Bath

                                   For those guests who feel reluctant to bathe in the presence of
                                   others, we recommend choosing a guestroom with bathroom
                                   attached. In recent years, ryokans are increasing the number of
                                   guestrooms with a private rotenburo (private open-air bath) attached.

                         Guestrooms with private open-air hot spring baths attached

See also: Enjoy the Real Japan, A Four Language Guide, from the Japan Ryokan Association


To top