How to Enjoy Onsens as Foreigners (Even With a Tattoo)

Have you ever thought about visiting an onsen in Japan? Onsens are a great way to immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture, but as a foreign visitor, it can be confusing to know where and how to start.

It's important to remember that onsens aren't just for tourists; they have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries. For foreigners unfamiliar with the rules and etiquette of this revered ritual, visiting an onsen can be intimidating. Here is your guide to enjoying onsens no matter where you're from.

Important Things to Know Before Visiting an Onsen as a Foreigner

To act like a local in an onsen, we must learn the rules and etiquette of the Onsen. Not only will we be respectful of the culture and norms of Onsen, but we also make the experience more enjoyable for others.

1. Have Tattoos? Fret not!

Traditionally, visitors with tattoos were not allowed into Onsen, due to safety concerns: the Yakuza (members of an organized crime syndicate) were often heavily tattooed. However, as Onsen becomes more popular amongst tourists, modern Onsen has become increasingly accepting of Tattoos.

Some Onsen allows it if the tattoo is covered up by plaster or bandage. To be even safer, there are some Onsen that allows visitors to have tattoos, like Hoheikyo Onsen and Yamato no Yu. Besides these 2 establishments, there are many other Onsen for you to take your pick from!

Onsen is a unique and special place that is a must-visit when in Japan! However, be cautious of the etiquette that must be expected, for you to get the most out of your Onsen experience!

2. Look for Onsen that allows swimsuits to be worn

Swimsuits are generally not allowed as they may compromise the hygiene and cleanliness of the water. However, certain modern Onsen may allow you to do so. We recommend Oedo Onsen Monogatari Urayasu Mengekyo, as well as Hakone Kowakien Yunessun.

That being said, going to a traditional Onsen where clothes are removed is still an experience not to be missed! It is an experience that will fully immerse you in Japan’s rich culture, and provide you with an authentic and memorable Onsen experience.

3. Rinse yourself before entering the bath

It is customary that all visitors to the bath are to thoroughly rinse themselves before entering the bath. At the entrance, you will often find a shower that can be used for a good wash.

4. Noise and Rowdiness

As the Onsen experience is meant for the relaxation of visitors, it is extremely important not to disturb the peace and tranquility of the Onsen. Avoid splashing, shouting, and running. Additionally, ensure that children are tended to and kept under control.

5. Making use of a Towel

Towels are often given to ensure some modesty when walking between areas. While some Onsen may allow it, it is typically not allowed for towels to be brought into the baths, due to sanitary and hygiene reasons. Instead, we should be careful to leave it on the side of the bath, or top of our heads when bathing.

4. Don’t use your phone!

For the privacy of other visitors, please refrain from using your phone, both in the changing room and in the baths. If it must be used, stick your hands into the locker and use your phone there.

The risks of using Onsen

Despite the health benefits that the Onsen experience has to offer, there are certain risks that we must be aware of.

1. High Blood Pressure

It is advised that people with high blood pressure should not visit hot springs. Since heat increases blood pressure, submerging in an Onsen can push blood pressure levels to extremely unsafe levels. We advise that visitors check themselves before visiting an Onsen!

2. Poor Sanitation Levels

Despite reminders for visitors to rinse themselves, as well as efforts by Onsen to keep the waters clean, some Onsen may fall through the cracks. Such Onsens may have low sanitation levels, resulting in an increased risk for infection and the spreading of diseases. Before visiting any establishment, it is extremely important that you check reviews, and go to a reputable and trusted Onsen!

3. Dizziness and Dehydration

The heat within Onsen will strip water away from your body, which can result in dehydration of your body. Due to this, you may experience dizziness, especially when getting up from the bath. Visitors must monitor how they are feeling, and immediately leave and seek help if they feel greatly unwell. To prevent this, visitors must also ensure that they are well-hydrated before entering the establishment.

The warmth envelops you like a cocoon, clasping you in a comforting embrace. Your shoulders slacken, your muscles relax, and you slowly close your eyes, a contented sigh leaving your lips…

This is the onsen experience! Since most onsens make use of spring water filled with minerals that are said to have numerous health benefits, the onsen experience is both relaxing and healthy.

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