Are you a female traveler like me, and you want to visit an onsen in Japan and wonder what the female onsen etiquette is?
Did you know that there’s a way to use an onsen in Japan?
There are some strict rules that you need to follow when you’re inside an onsen, which may cause you to be kicked out if you don’t!
Honestly, I’m extremely careful when I travel to different countries. I want to make sure that I respect their laws and, I think, equally important, their cultural practices.
If you are new here, Hi, I am Aisha Preece ! I am an avid solo female traveller and I love helping other females travel safer and better 🙂
I know Japan, in particular, has some strict rules on etiquette across various aspects of their lives.
I have been thinking of going to Japan at some point, so I’ve been doing some research on their cultural practices.
I really want to experience their world-famous onsen, but I don’t want to offend anyone by doing something wrong!
Boy – I’ve discovered a LOT of things in my research! O-O
If you’re thinking you know how to take a bath, I’m sure you will change your mind after reading this article.
Read on to find out more about Japanese bathhouse etiquette.
Female Onsen Etiquette at a glance:
- What is onsen?
- Types of onsen
- What’s inside an onsen?
- What to wear?
- What to do before entering an onsen?
- How to use an onsen?
- Can babies/children visit an onsen?
- Can you visit an onsen during that time of the month?
- Things not to do in an onsen
Affiliate Link Disclosure
Some of the links here are affiliate links, and I may earn if you click on them AT NO EXTRA cost to you. I hope you find the information here useful! Thanks.
Here are some awesome tours you can take in Japan!
What Is Onsen?
Onsen (温泉) is a Japanese word for hot spring. It’s a geothermally heated spring with water that contains multiple beneficial minerals.
An onsen needs to meet two criteria that have been set by the Hot Spring Law (1948) (Law no. 125) in Japan:
The water is at least 25 Degrees Celcius, and it contains over a defined amount of at least one of the 19 natural chemical components.
Onsen is an integral part of Japanese culture. It is believed to have healing properties to provide various medical benefits.
Some onsens have been used for over 3,000 years and are considered the oldest in Japan.
Types Of Onsens
There are a total of 19 different types of baths (as per their mineral compositions), such as Sulfur, Iron, Alkaline, Hydrogen, Sulfate, Radium, Carbonated, Radioactive, Carbon dioxide, and many others.
They also have different types of baths:
- Indoor baths (Uchiburo)
- Outdoor baths (Rotenburo)
- Mixed-gender baths (Konyoko)
- Private baths (Kashikiriburo or Kazokuburo)
- Foot baths (Ashiyu)
- Waterfall or beating baths (Takiyu or Utaseyu)
- Sand baths (Sunaburo)
- Steam baths (Mushiburo)
- Mud bath (Doroyu)
Some types of hot spring water are consumed and seem to have many health benefits. They are also used for cooking.
What Kind Of Facilities/Amenities Are Available In An Onsen?
There are quite a lot of amenities and facilities available in most of the onsens throughout Japan. If not a lot, you can at least expect the basic ones.
Some of the facilities available are:
- Changing rooms
- Car park
- Lounging areas
- Coin lockers
- Shower areas
Some of the amenities that you can find (as a day-tripper or overnight stay guest):
- Toiletries (toothbrush, soap, shampoo, etc)
- Mini Refrigerator
- Hair dryer
- Electric kettle
- Shaving set
- Hair band and shower cap
- Socks (during winter season)
- Futon (Japanese mattress)
- Room service
- A safe
- Skincare products
Can You Visit An Onsen During That Time Of The Month?
This is a part of female onsen etiquette and a concern for many women who worry about getting their periods while they travel.
Doctors do not recommend using onsen at all while menstruating.
Not only doctors but the onsen owners as well will encourage you to stay away from the waters during your period.
Though it sounds so disappointing, there are several reasons why they are not encouraging:
- It’s unsanitary and disrespectful towards other onsen goers.
- Some women may encounter dizziness on their heavy flow days, and bathing in an onsen can put them at risk. This is because many women tend to experience anemia and dehydration during menstruation.
- Possibility of infection due to the water entering the cervical opening. During menstruation, the vaginal opening tends to be looser than usual hence making it easier for germs and dirt to enter the uterus.
Having said that, there might be some onsens that allow you to use during your menstruation as long as you are wearing a tampon or a menstrual cup.
You can check with the onsen for any rules specific to this situation.
Tip: You can wear a menstrual cup instead of a tampon because a menstrual cup lasts up to 12 hours and is considered more hygienic than a tampon.
Also, consider visiting an onsen on your light flow days and avoid heavy flow days for your safety and hygiene.
Now, let’s find out the Japanese hot spring rules and female onsen etiquette. What to do before, during, and after using an onsen.
Female Onsen Etiquette – Upon Entering An Onsen
Once you have paid at the reception, go to the locker area/changing room.
You can easily spot this gender-segregated curtain; a Red curtain (女) for Japanese onsen women and a Blue curtain (男) for Japanese onsen men.
Look for the curtains with the right symbols as not all onsens will have English writings. Sometimes you’d have to figure it out on your own.
Don’t mess this up unless you want to turn your relaxing soak into a surprise comedy show- and trust me, it’s not the kind that you’d want to be in!
The onsen will give you a basket, or you could rent a locker for you to leave your clothes and other belongings.
If you brought your towels or purchased them at the counter, remember to leave the big towel in the changing area, either in your basket or locker and bring the small towel with you.
The small towel is called the modesty towel, and it helps you to cover your nether areas when you’re moving about the onsen.
Female Onsen Etiquette – Before Entering The Bath
Most Japanese onsens will have a shower area. It is mandatory to wash yourself before stepping into the water.
Soaps are provided in the shower area, and if you brought your own be sure to place it away from the onsen’s.
This is because you cannot enter an onsen with soap, dirt, or sweat on your body, and you may asked to leave the onsen.
Trust me, your fellow bathers will thank you for this. So, take your time to wash your body thoroughly with soap.
Your hair cannot touch the water, so it’s important for women or people with long hair to wear their hair up before entering the bath.
Tip: If you’re staying in a ryokan, you can wear yukata from your room to the bathhouse. A quick video will show you how to wear Yukata like a pro!
Depending on the type of onsen that you’re visiting, you need to know which bathhouse to enter.
If it’s a mixed onsen, check the rules of the onsen and if it says anything about wearing a towel, swimsuit, nudity, etc.
If it’s a gender-segregated onsen, make sure you are entering the right bathhouse. Again, red is for Japanese female onsen, and blue is for Japanese male onsen.
Female Onsen Etiquette – During The Bath
You can use the modesty towel to cover up your nether region when you’re entering the onsen.
Enter slowly to avoid disturbing others and prevent your body from getting a sudden temperature shock.
Immerse your body only up to your neck. It’s not allowed to dunk your head under the water in an onsen to avoid germs, bacteria, oils, and grooming products dirtying the water.
So, keep your hair out of the water. Watch how the other women and men are taking their baths. Just follow them or ask questions if in doubt.
You can place your modesty towel on top of your head and avoid it from getting wet.
Don’t put the towel inside the water, if it falls in the water accidentally, take it out and wring it outside the bath.
Most importantly, avoid soaking for too long. Generally, 30-40 minutes in total is enough time to soak in the water and reap its benefits.
You can take breaks when you need to and sit by the rocks around the onsen. Do the same if you feel the water is too hot, don’t push yourself.
You can feel dehydration and dizziness if you stay too long in the water, so be careful.
Things to avoid doing during the bath:
- Don’t drink alcohol, smoke or eat
- Avoid staring at people, and maintain very minimal eye contact with people throughout your bath
- Avoid chatting loudly, respect other people’s space, and need to relax peacefully
- Don’t splash, swim, jump, run or dive
The rules are pretty straightforward for the Japanese men onsen and Japanese women onsen goers.
Keep these in mind because the last we would want is this therapeutic soaking going wrong!
Female Onsen Etiquette – After The Bath
Finally, once you’re done with your bath, come out of the pool and wipe the excess water with the modesty towel.
This is to avoid the water dripping into the changing room or shower area.
You can change yourself in the changing room. Make sure to take your belongings from the shower area and ensure they are clean before leaving.
The changing rooms usually will have hair dryers, so you can dry your hair and wipe your body dry with the big towel that you left in there.
Most Japanese onsens have relaxation areas. You can enjoy some drinks at the bar, go for a good massage, spa, hot sand rooms, or any facilities that are available for you after a good soak.
Note: Do not consume alcohol immediately after your bath as it will cause dehydration. Drink lots of water, tea, milk, or sports drinks to hydrate yourself.
Avoid taking a shower after onsen, as it’s believed that taking a shower will weaken the minerals of its healing power.
Some Phrases That You Can Use At An Onsen
Learning to communicate these simple phrases will be very helpful when you’re visiting onsens.
Some onsens will have the rules written in the Japanese language if you’re unsure about something, it’s good to look around and follow the lead of the local people.
If you need more information, perhaps these phrases can come in handy:
- Konnichiwa – Hello
- Ohayou Gozaimasu – If you’re going to an onsen before 10 am
- Konbanwa – If you’re going after 6 pm
- Koko ii desuka? – May I sit here?
- Kore de attemasuka? – Is this correct?
- Arigato gozaimasu – Thank you very much!
- Sumimasen – Excuse me
- Toire wa doko desu ka? – Where is the toilet?
- Roten buro – Outdoor bath
- Uchi buro – Indoor bath
- Kazoku buro ni hairitai desu – I want to enter the private (family) bath
- Onna yu – Ladies’ Bath
- Otoko yu – Men’s bath
- Ta o ru – Towel
- Kimochii desune – It feels good, isn’t it?
- Iiyu desune – isn’t this hot spring nice
- Hitori ikura desu ka? – How much for one person?
- Basu taoru wa rentaru dekimasu ka? – Can I rent a bath towel?
- Tsukattemo daijobu desu ka? – Can I use this?
- Hakike ga shimasu – I feel nauseous
- Memai ga shimasu – I feel dizzy
- Oyasumi nasai – Good nigth
Mixed Onsen Etiquette
Konyoku, or mixed-gender onsen in Japan, is where men and women completely strip off and bathe together. This type of onsen still exists in some prefectures in Japan.
Some other prefectures in Japan, including Tokyo, banned mixed bathing.
People in mixed baths are required to wear a wearable towel with straps (known as Yugi) or rental swimsuits for comfort and privacy.
Onsens have a few similar general rules. However, some facilities may have different rules.
Observe how those around you are settling into the baths, and with the help of the phrases earlier, ask some questions to clarify your doubts.
Some Konyuku onsens will require you to go nude, while others require the onsen women to wear a towel (yugi).
Check with the onsen staff before you assume anything. If you’re required to wear a towel, do note that you need to bathe with the towel on.
If there is a towel wrap option at an onsen, you can safely assume that women should rent a towel. Men can use a small hand towel to cover themselves.
The rest of the etiquette when using a mixed onsen is very similar to any onsens.
Is It Safe To Take Onsen While Pregnant?
As onsens are natural hot springs, the major risk is your temperature rising to an unsafe level, which is dangerous to the baby inside.
As long as the onsen is below 38 degrees Celsius, your body temperature will not rise to an unsafe level.
Also, make sure to be very careful around the floor in onsens as they can be very slippery.
Can Muslim Women Go To Onsen?
If you’re a Muslim and worried about bathing naked around strangers in public onsens, there are many ryokans (Japanese traditional inns) that have private onsens attached to the rooms.
Besides, many onsens allow wearing swimsuits so that Muslim customers can still enjoy Japanese-style hot springs in a Muslim-friendly way.
Can You Wear A Swimsuit To An Onsen?
Unfortunately, in most of the onsen, you cannot wear clothes or swimsuits in the bathing area.
However, there is an exception to this rule when you’re in a mixed-gender bath.
Either both genders or women will be required to cover up with a towel, thin gauze bathing cover-up, cotton dress ( that you can purchase), wearable towel with straps or shorts in the onsen for everyone’s comfort while bathing.
This is becoming a rule in many onsens not only because many Japanese find onsen nudity embarrassing in mixed-gender onsens, but also the growing number of tourists who are not used to the traditional requirement to bathe naked.
Also, some women don’t find it comfortable bathing around men in onsen. Hence, this rule to wear clothes to cover themselves up is brilliant.
Related Posts on Female Onsen Etiquette
Why Are Japanese People Fond Of Onsen?
Japanese consider onsen a place where they can obtain beauty and cure illness. It is an integral part of their daily lives and use them often.
It is also a place for them to unwind their minds and relax while admiring the beauty of their nature – a perfect escape from their busy lives.
Faqs On Female Onsen Etiquette:
Can You Wear Undies In Onsen?
Unless specifically mentioned by the onsen facility, please remove all clothing, including underwear.
In most of the mixed-gender baths, women or both genders are asked to cover up when using their mixed bathing facility to avoid any inconvenience or being stared at by some wanis (men who come to onsens just to stare at naked women, yucks!)
Do You Have To Take Your Clothes Off In An Onsen?
Yes, take off all your clothes in the changing room and place them in a basket which is provided by the onsen. Coin lockers are available to keep your valuables safe.
To avoid disappointment, you can research the onsen you’re planning to visit and check if they allow swimsuits.
Can I Bring My Phone Into Onsen?
No, you can’t bring your phone to the onsens. You might want to take pictures of you enjoying your bath just like you would on a beach.
However, don’t use your phone or camera in public onsen out of respect for people’s privacy. You can check with the onsen if guests are allowed to take pictures.
Onsen Etiquette Shaving
It is acceptable for men to shave in the shower area of the onsen with razors provided.
For women, it’s not acceptable to shave in the onsens as this is seen as something to be done privately.
Onsen Rules Tattoo
You cannot enter onsen if you have a tattoo. Many onsens have a strict rule of not admitting customers with tattoos because tattoos are associated with the underworld criminal gang in Japan.
However, there are some exceptions in some onsens as they accommodate tourists with tattoos.
What Do You Wear To Private Onsen?
Unless specified otherwise by the onsen, you will be completely nude while bathing in a gender-segregated bath.
You will be required to undress before entering the bath, so wear easily removable clothing when you’re making your trip to an onsen.
Ready for your onsen bathing experience?
There’s no doubt that you will have an amazing onsen experience that you will never forget in your life.
Did you know that onsen used to be only accessible to the nobility and wealthier individuals in the Kamakura period?
Now, it’s available for everyone’s use. How amazing is that?!
If you’re not planning to go to an onsen anytime soon, you can still experience it in the comfort of your home with these onsen bath salts.
If you’re going, I hope you will have a wonderful time experiencing Japan’s one-of-a-kind bathing culture!
Related Posts on Female Onsen Etiquette