7 Things You Need to Take With You to a Japanese Public Bath or Hot Spring

Updated on November 3, 2018
poppyr profile image

Poppy lives near Tokyo and likes to read novels and play video games, especially fantasy RPGs.

One of the many new experiences available to you when visiting Japan is trying out a local "onsen," or hot spring. These natural baths are popular all year round (but especially in winter) for relaxing the body and the mind. Some even have health benefits or healing properties because of the minerals in the water and are widely advertised as such.

A "sento" is more or less the same thing as an onsen, the main difference being that an onsen uses water from a natural hot spring and a sento uses heated water from faucets. They are both public places in which people bathe, and can be located indoors or outdoors.


Public Baths in Japan

Japan is a country of volcanic activity. There are over 100 active volcanoes in this relatively small country, making for a lot of natural hot water in the ground in which people (and monkeys, if you go far enough north) love to relax.

The Japanese people are known for their impeccable work ethic, and working hard at the office means that a dip in a hot bath to soothe the muscles isn't only a popular pastime, it's a way of life. You can find onsen and sento all over the country, both man-made and natural, public and private. Many ryokan (Japanese inns) and hotels have a bath included, either one for all guests on a separate floor or a private one to enjoy in one's room or even outside among nature.


The Rules

If you plan on visiting a Japanese onsen or sento during your stay in this wonderful country, then there are some rules you should be aware of.

  • Wash your body by using the showers provided before you enter the bath.
  • No swimming costumes. Everyone is nude in a public bath. It's a rule that takes some getting used to!
  • Don't enter the bath if you have been drinking alcohol. You can get quickly dehydrated because of the heat, which is very dangerous.
  • Don't go in if you have tattoos. In reality, it is rare you will be asked to leave if you have a small, unnoticeable tattoo because another customer would have to leave the bath, get dressed, and then head to reception to complain to staff for you to actually be thrown out. However, if you have very large or obvious tattoos, it can be offensive to people in Japan, so you'll have to cover them up.
  • Don't let your hair get into the water.
  • Don't swim in the water. It may be the size of a pool, but it is still a bath.

Are you ready to visit a Japanese hot spring? Here are some essential items you must take with you when you go to a public bath in Japan.

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1. Your Own Towel

Similarly to when you visit a swimming pool, you need to take your own towel with you. A large one is preferable so you can quickly dry your body, and if you plan on washing your hair while you use the shower, a second towel might be a good idea, too.

Some people who feel shy about walking around a public bath naked might want to take a smaller towel to cover themselves while walking around. Just be sure not to get it in the water; it can go round your shoulders or your head when you are in the bath.


2. Body Wash

It's probable that the hot spring you're visiting provides shampoo and body wash for guests, but this isn't always the case. It is best to take your own small bottle of body wash with which to quickly clean your body before getting into the bath. A bottle of shampoo is recommended too if you plan on washing your hair (which you should do after the bath).

3. A Hair Tie or Bobble

For those with long hair, you may want to tie your hair up - preferably in a high bun - before visiting the bath. If your hair is down, it will get in the way and you won't be able to get into the water up to your neck.

Since it is a public bath, many people use it, and the last thing anyone wants to see is some stray hairs floating around. If you've got long hair, tie it up and out the way. Take along a hair tie to do so.


4. Bandages Or Band-Aids To Cover Up Tattoos

If you have a tattoo, you may be able to get away with just covering it up. Plasters, or band-aids, work just fine for smaller ones. For sleeves or tattoos on your arms or legs, a bandage or compression wrap used for sprained limbs will work just fine. As long as the tattoo is covered, you're golden.

Tattoos are considered offensive in Japan, mainly because they are closely associated with the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza. It's unlikely that a foreigner is going to be mistaken for a local crime syndicate, but body art is still heavily disliked by a lot of people, and are required to be covered up, especially in places with families.

5. Clean Underwear

It sounds obvious, but it's an easy one to forget! After taking a shower and then a bath, most people feel better if they can get into some fresh, clean clothes. It might not be possible (or necessary) to take an entirely different outfit, but some new underwear and socks go a long way after a good, long soak.

6. Face Cream and Makeup

For some people, getting into a public bath is done last, before they go to bed. For others, it is part of their day out and they have plans straight after. If the second option sounds like you, then you will want to further refresh yourself after your bathe.

Take face cream to moisturise your face after the bath as well as some fresh makeup if you need it. It is easy for your face to get wet accidentally and you will likely be bright red after the heat of the bath. Be sure to pack some of the essentials before visiting the onsen so you can walk out looking as good as you did walking in.


7. A Glasses Case or Small Box

If you wear glasses, you will want to store them in a case so they are easy to find. If you just pop them on top of your belongings, they could go missing.

Even if you don't wear glasses, loose jewellery, watches, and other small items can also be stored inside the case. It saves the risk of them falling somewhere and disappearing.

With this checklist of things to take with you to a sento or onsen, you should hopefully feel much more prepared for your visit! Walking around naked in front of other people may seem daunting, but there is nothing quite like soaking in a hot bath after a long day, whether you spent it working or sightseeing. Try every new experience you can in Japan, and last but not least, enjoy yourself.

© 2018 Poppy


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    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR


      16 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

      That’s cool! I didn’t know you lived in Japan. Private baths are preferable because you don’t have to be naked around others. I’m glad you had the opportunity to try them.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      16 months ago from North Central Florida

      Good morning... I lived in the land of the rising sun for four years as my then husband was stationed there in the Air Force. We used the fabulous baths in ryokans but never went to a public one. Thanks for sharing this. Angels are on the way. ps

    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR


      17 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Indeed, it's an easy one to forget. Thank you for commenting.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      17 months ago from UK

      Glasses case is a great tip. The times I have gone down to use a hotel pool and forgotten to put my glasses case in the bag!


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