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How to Onsen

Water Worlds

I want my onsen!!

When it comes to bathing, the Japanese are different from you and me. They take their bathing seriously. Very seriously.

This seriousness is applied to each of the bathing options in Japan whether it's a local sento, someone's in-home ofuro, or a curative onsen located at the end of a backcountry trail.

If you like the idea of scrubbing down your skin to a rosy, glowing sheen, devoid of all grime and dirt, you have entered hollowed ground. Who knew it could be so much fun getting clean. In fact, for many, visiting a Japanese onsen ranks as the number one reason to visit the country. We can only support such a feeling.

Our nine-step tip sheet for enjoying the hot springs in Japan will make you feel like a local from the beginning.

Enjoy your soak.

1. Locate the changing area (usually one area for men, another for women) and step inside. If you haven't already removed your street shoes and traded them in for slippers, you'll probably do so now. Or, you might need to remove your shoes and walk in barefoot.

2. Take off all your clothes and place them into a locker or basket provided. If the locker has a key, it will probably be on a strap you can put over your wrist or ankle.

3. Go into the bathing area with just a small hand towel (some people call them "humility" towels), soap, and a scrubbing cloth. Locate a shower, pull up one of the small plastic stools and start soap up and scrub your body.

4. Very likely, you'll see small plastic water bowl to rinse with. You'll be filling this bowl over and over with clean water and pouring it over your head and body to wash away the soap. You will want to soap up at least once. Most Japanese will wash their entire body at least twice before entering the hot pools.

5. Before going into any of the springs, be sure to rinse well. Now you are ready to soak.

6. Slowly enter the water (try not to splash).

7. Enjoy. Remember to keep your hand towel out of the water. Some people fold it up and place it on their heads, others just keep it nearby but never soaking in the water.

8. When your body is warm, consider heading back to the showers for another round of soaping, scrubbing, cleaning, and rinsing. Then, back into the hot waters.

9. Take your time drying off and dressing. You'll be surprised how relaxed you feel.

Remember to bring your own towel to dry off with; no bathing suits or underwear in the water, and no washing in the communal tubs.


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