What are some unspoken rules and etiquette at onsen (hot springs) in Japan?
My Japanese family spent generations in the sento (public bath house) business, so this topic is close to my heart!
For starters, if you have any tattoos, you might want to check with your onsen whether or not tattoos are allowed. In the olden days, yakuza (Japanese mafia) were the only people with tattoos, so banning tattoos was a way for onsen owners to avoid yakuza at their establishments. Obviously yakuza are not the only people who have tattoos nowadays, but the rules that have been set in place for decades haven’t relaxed as rapidly.
Other than that, here are some public bath/onsen etiquette to follow:
Do not wear any clothing, including bathing suits, into a public bath. If you carry a small towel into the bath, keep the towel out of the water (you can do so by folding it and placing it on your head)
Rinse off your body first before sinking into a hot tub or hot spring
If you have long hair, make sure your hair is tied up to prevent loose hairs escaping into the water
Do not enter a bath with soap on your body/hair.
Be mindful when you use a portable shower head not to spray water onto other people
Carry a small towel with you; before you exit the bath house into the changing room area, wipe excess water from your body so you do not drip water onto the floor between the bath and your locker.
Most importantly, enjoy the relaxing bath time!
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