How to Bathe Like a Local In Japan (Part 2) – Onsen and Ryokan Etiquette

 In FAQs, General Travel

Ryokan Onsen in Tamatsukuri, Japanese hot springUpon arrival, if you are not a guest at the ryokan or are visiting an onsen (Japanese hot spring) not attached to a ryokan, you will need to pay first. Enter the reception. Many onsen will require you to take off your shoes at the entrance, where shoe lockers are usually provided. Pay your entrance fee. You may be given a free (very) small white towel, which is yours to keep.

Changing Area

Men and women’s bathing areas are usually marked with blue and red (or purple) curtains over the doors. Look for lockers or shelves with baskets, and take one. Disrobe completely, and put all your clothes in the basket or locker. Valuables should be left in lockers or ask at reception.

Take only your small white towel (bath towels are not allowed in the washing area). This is used to wash yourself with the provided soap and shampoo. It is acceptable for men to take in razors to shave while in the washing area.


Once disrobed, move to the washing area. Look for a row of shower fixtures, and take a small stool and plastic bucket. Sit on the stool, and use the bucket to pour water on yourself and mix the right temperature from the hot and cold taps. When using the shower attachment, make sure not to splash your neighbor!

Use the liquid soap and shampoo, and wash yourself. Make sure to rinse off afterwards, as soap in the bath will earn the ire of your fellow bathers.

Rotemburo (Outdoor Bath) or Japanese hot spring

Rotemburo (Outdoor Bath)


Once you are rinsed off, move to the bath. You can go straight to the rotenburo (outside) bath first if you prefer, but it’s always nice to try both.

Test the temperature with a finger or toe, and slip slowly into the water. Smaller onsen may have a cold water tap which you can use to add cool water to the bath if it is too hot. But use this carefully as fellow bathers may still want it to be fairly hot.

The water will probably be hotter than most baths you are used to, but get in slowly and sit still and you will soon feel the soothing action of the hot water.

You can get out and take a break, or wash again, and bathe afterwards.

Onsen Commandments (only 8)

1. Do NOT wear any clothing, including a swimsuit, in the bath
2. Wash and rinse thoroughly BEFORE getting into the bath
3. Remove jewelry as it may become discolored in the mineral water
4. Do not run and jump into the baths
5. Avoid swimming or splashing in the baths
6. Do not pull out the plug!
7. Keep your small towel out of the water
8. Use your small towel to dry yourself as best possible BEFORE re-entering the changing area

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