Japan Travel Moment: onsen

Japan is famous for its onsen baths so you must put it on your itinerary; however, as with many things in Japan, there are specific rules you should follow. Here are my TOP 10 observations:

  1. Bathing is always done nude. Don’t be shy about exposing your whole self to random Japanese men (or women, but only if you are a woman). 
  2. Getas (wooden clogs) and Yukatas (robes) are frequently worn when visiting onsen since they make dressing and undressing quick and simple. Store them in provided baskets before entering the bathing area. I do not recommend running in getas unless you wish to explore the Japanese healthcare system.
  3. Most onsen are NO TATTOOs, which means 90% of North American hipsters are disqualified. Tattoos in Japan are associated with organized crime, so I wasn’t going to take any chances getting googly eyes tattooed on my ass cheeks.
  4. Since onsen are naked only, most are male/female specific. I did not see any onsen with doors for pan, trans, or two-spirits. Not saying they don’t exist in Japan, but we didn’t see any in Yamanouchi.
  5. If you need to wash then you should do it before getting into the mineral water, since the water possess healing properties and should never be washed off. (I haven’t bathed since.)
  6. Some onsen and many ryokan offer all bathing amenities such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, and even disposable toothbrushes for when you want to brush your teeth in front of other naked men.
  7. I HIGHLY recommend dipping a toe into the water first to determine the heat level and your tolerance. Onsen are not hot tubs; they are pools of mineral water heated by molten lava. Trust me, there is a difference.
  8. Before entering the water, you must first wet yourself by kneeling beside the bath then splashing or dumping water on yourself. It’s important that you do not splash people beside you. I also discovered too late that you should wet yourself facing away from the water to avoid displaying your dangly things to other men in the bath. Oops, sorry fellas.
  9. You may take a small towel in with you and are supposed to use it for drying off. Do not use it in the tub itself. Bundle it on top of your head or carry it in front of your secret things. No “need a longer towel” jokes please.
  10. You’re finally ready to enter the bath, enjoy, but do it quietly. Keep oos and ahs to a minimum or others may think you’re talking about them.

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