Let’s talk about proper Japanese Bath House Etiquette. Now, I am not a luxurious traveler. Loud hostel dorm rooms, red eye flights, and uncomfortable day long bus rides are all part of my weekly routine. One luxury I do allow myself is breathing in the steamy air and soaking in the scorching water of a hot spring or bathhouse. Sometimes we all need to wash the road off us!
Am I right?
It goes without saying that visiting the famed bathhouses in Japan was a huge bucket list item for me. Recently I paid a few of these bath houses a visit. I had an incredible day as I soaked in every moment of my bathhouse experience in Aomori. (pun intended) I was fresh of a plane after a whirlwind 48 hours in Tokyo. A bath was just what I needed.
However, as travelers, there are a few rules and customs to pay attention to before visiting an Onsen or Sento (bathhouses) for the first time. They are one of the reasons I fell in love with Aomori. In this post we will talk about proper Japanese Bath House Etiquttte.
Bath houses I visited in Aomori.
A Few Rules before visiting an Onsens: Japanese Bath House Etiquette
Japanese Bath House Etiquette – Are Tattoo’s Allowed in a Japanese Bath House Tattoo’s
“Are Tattoo’s allowed in Japanese bath houses?”. This is probably the most common question when it comes to visiting a bath house. Sadly, no. If you have tattoo’s most likely they will deny you entry to the bath.
Tattoos have a bad reputation in Japan and are often seen as a mark of being in the Yakuza so entering with them is not proper Japanese Bath House Etiquttte. That being said there are still a few ways to visit the Japanese bath with tattoos.
A few ideas on how to visit a Onsen with a tattoo.
1- Get a concealer patch. It is possible to find patches that cover your tattoo’s.
2- Ask if there is an empty bath. I have a huge Sak Yant on my back and a handful of other travel tattoos. Luckily when I visited Hakkoda Hotel they had an empty bath that they let me use.
3- Some places might not mind. One bath house in Japan they let me go in even without concealing my tattoo’s. It’s important to be polite and ask. Never just assume you can go in with tattoos.
Wash Before Entering the Bath.
There are little stools and buckets around the path. Use the bucket and nearby hose to wash and rinse yourself off before entering and exiting the bath.
Clean yourself thoroughly. The whole point of washing yourself off is to make yourself clean enough to bathe with other people.
No Clothes Allowed
Onsen’s and Sento’s are a no clothes activity. You will be naked surrounded by naked strangers. If this bothers you then you’ll need to opt for a hotel room that has a private bath house. However, these rooms are expensive (at least a few hundred dollars a night), and you will not get the full Onsen experience.
A much cheaper option is to cover yourself with a small towel until just before you get into the bath. Then rest the towel on your head, or around your neck until you are ready to get out.
Nowadays most Onsen and Sento have separate baths for men and women. Traditionally bath houses were co-ed and some still follow this are. Make sure to know what type of bath you’re going into, or you could be in for a surprise.
Respect is a huge part of Japanese culture, and it is important to show as much respect as possible when visiting this wonderful country. This applies to a Japanese Onsen as well. Many people come to the baths to unwind and relax their mind.
Silence is appreciated but talking quietly is fine. Don’t yell across the bath, or splash around in the water. A good rule to have proper Japanese Bath House Etiquette is to imagine your in a flooded library.
Rinse and Repeat
Many of the bathhouses have a cold water pool. Once you have had enough heat, send a shock to your senses by dipping in the frigid water. You will immediately wake from your hot water coma. After the cold water jars you awake head back to the bath and bask in comfort as the warm water engulfs you.
Leave Your Things in the Dressing Room.
Don’t stress about leaving your clothes, wallet, and phone in the changing room before entering the bath area. Theft in Japan is extremely rare. Nobody is going to take your things.
Even hiking in Aomori, I was amazed because if someone dropped something on the trail, the next person to see it would place it on a rail or rock. That way when the person came back for it they would find it easily. People respect each other too much in Japan to steal stuff.
Watch What Other People Do
If in doubt mimic your neighbors. If you are worried, you are doing something wrong just imitate the people around, and you will be okay.
An Onsen is a great traditional experience to have when traveling Japan. This mini guide will help you be prepared for what is expected when taking a Japanese bath and help you get the most out of your time.