Onsens or sentos – hot spring spas in Japan
The Japanese take their baths very seriously and most have a mini bath in their homes which is shared with the whole family (in strict order of hierarchy!) at night.
Onsens are bigger baths or pools located in beautiful areas and tastefully decorated with perhaps an outdoors pool surrounded by a fence and a little garden.
Most are segregated, but you can still find mixed baths out in the countryside (and one newspaper report mentions that groups of swingers from the big city book out small onsens ‘ for orgies at the weekend, much to the chagrin of the owners – who incidentally don’t refuse the business because money is money!)
The onsen experience is really something alien to Westerners in general. You get stark naked with a bunch of strangers and sit around in pools of hot volcanic water (if its an authentic place) and gently boil until you turn into a prune.
Having said that, they are totally amazing and definitely something you should try while you’re here.
Onsens are the hot spring resorts usually located within a hotel or complex and offer a variety of relaxing amenities like sauna, the hot springs – indoor or outdoor, massage chairs, and excellent restaurants.
Sentos are the neighbourhood version which can be more spartan and are usually filled with wrinkled old timers who get together for chats and a soak with their friends. To find a sento look for the “Yuu” symbol (left). Sentos can range from dingy baths to bright modern palaces equipped with a range of facilities.
You get what you pay for – and for a real Japanese experience it’s recommended you try all three of these!
If you stay in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) then its possible a communal sento bath is on the premises. Have a dip and don’t be shy.
There are a couple of golden rules you must observe when taking an onsen.
The most important is WASH BEFORE YOU GET IN.
There are always shower or washing facilities provided and it’s vital that you wash your body before getting in the main bath. Nobody likes the thought of soaking in someone else’s grime so please get nice and clean before.
Secondly – No clothes, although if you were to go in with a bathing suit the biggest problem you’d have would be a few stares, but lets face it you’re gonna get these anyways so if you modesty is too strong then take a swimsuit and don’t worry! (if you’re totally freaked out by the nudity then read about this woman’s experience in Armia onsen)
Tattoos might be a problem due to their association with gangs and mobsters so if you have a large tattoo then you should, depending on the place, be expected to maybe asked some questions or even to leave. However this should rarely happen in the modern places and tattoos are becoming more and more popular among young Japanese so it’s not a big thing to stress over.
And that’s about it!
Onsens and sentos sound kinda weird when you first hear about them but they come highly recommended and are a really great way to melt away stress and get back to nature a little.
A list of Onsens in Osaka.
A great list of onsen in Kansai region and all over japan, including reservations and coupons!