6 March 2013

Japanese Onsen Etiquette, Whats the Deal?


Onsens are really big in Japan. Apparently the Japanese love having naked hot baths together, and who doesn't!? These baths are huge in Japanese ski resorts as a way to relax and unwind after a day on the slopes, and are also seen as a way to strengthen your muscles so they aren't aching the next day.

The particular onsen near my house in Japan opens at 4pm which for me is too late to visit straight off the slopes. Not sure if many feel the same but I can’t be bothered to wait around a few hours for a warm shower after skiing, hence why the onsen isn't really for me. However, I couldn't leave the Japanese ski resort without trying the onsen at least once so here is my tale...

For those who have never heard of onsens they are basically really hot naked baths, which can be both indoors and outdoors. You're looking at an average of 45°c temperature, sometimes a bit hotter. They are all single sex, due to the nakedness, but both sexes can go to the same bathhouse, just different rooms. So you go into a changing room, strip off and have a ‘vanity’ towel to cover your front. This seems a little pointless as you’re bound to see some nakedness at some point but still the vanity towels are required. You then go into a shower room where you sit on a plastic stool, which seems quite bizarre to me, and then you shower yourself. This to me was the oddest part of the onsen. I understand you need to be very clean before going into the baths with everyone else, but it was the plastic chair and the mirror shower which seemed odd. Anyway, once you’re clean you step into the baths and relax.

Relax didn't seem much of an option to me as I was too warm. Not sure if it was my pale English skin that couldn't take the heat but I could only last 15 minutes in the onsen. However, the outside bath was much more appealing as there was something great about bathing in a hot spring whilst snow fell all around. So that is an onsen. Don’t be shy about the naked part; I've heard both men and women at the resort who avoid onsens for this reason. I just say when in a Japanese ski resort, do as the Japanese would do.

As a side note the cover picture is from Google. For obvious reasons I was not allowed my camera into the onsen...

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