First Timer’s Guide to Onsen Etiquette in Japan


First Timer’s Guide to Onsen Etiquette in Japan

There’s something of beauty about Japanese onsen. But, if you’re a newbie to this charming tradition, it might seem uncomfortable or a little scary, if not daunting. If this sounds like you, this beginners’ guide is right on point for you.

So, before you set your foot in one, here are a few things you might want to know about Japanese onsen etiquette. As a first timer, stick to these easy unwritten rules and you’ll have an unforgettable onsen experience.

First Things First: What is an Onsen?

Onsens are natural spring baths found aplenty in Japan. As a volcanically active country, Japan boasts of more than 26,000 onsens. It’s no wonder onsen is a big part of the Japanese culture. If it’s found indoors, it’s called a sento, while rotenburo is an outdoor onsen.

Why are onsens so popular? It’s thought that these natural spring baths have immense healing properties that can do wonders against diseases like psoriasis, lower back pain, arthritis, and much more. More importantly, an onsen is a great place to kick back and relax away from the ups and downs of life.

General Onsen Etiquette

Onsen etiquette does vary from region to region and onsen to onsen; however, these are the general rules of engagement:

When You Arrive

  1. You’ll be provided with shampoo, soap, a washcloth and a towel by most onsens. Inquire if they do beforehand. If not, be sure to bring yours.
  2. Remove your shoes before stepping into the main section of onsen
  3. Go commando – you read that right! Strip each and every piece of clothing. There’s always a changing room to tuck away your belongings.
  4. Shower before you set in an onsen. Never, and I repeat never, wash in the onsen bath. There’s always a designated area for that.


You’ll either be provided or rent a set of two towels. The large one is for drying yourself and the small towel is for washing yourself.

In-Onsen Etiquette

  1. When getting into onsen, enter slowly – don’t jump or dive in.
  2. Avoid letting your hair into the water. If you have long hair, use a headband or a small towel to wrap them.
  3. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with other occupants. However, rowdy and loud convos are a big no-no.
  4. Don’t swim – just relax and chill
  5. No selfies or any form of photography
  6. Don’t get in when drunk. Similarly, don’t bring booze into the onsen.

Getting Out

Step out of onsen as gracefully as you entered. Be sure mindful of others and onsen’s slippery floors. Wipe off as much water and sweat as possible with your face cloth

There you have it – a quick guide to onsen etiquette. Some onsens have a place to relax; don’t hesitate to make the most of it.

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