There is not better way to experience traditional Japan that to try an onsen. Onsen are thermal baths with usually at least one hot spring.
Here are some tips if you are experiencing onsen for the first time. It’s pretty intimidating I have to admit as you think you are always on the verge of a major faux-pas, but I have to say that at least in the women’s part, I felt no pressure at all and only encountered kind and curious looks.
If you’ve never been naked and surrounded by same gender persons, this might be a bit too much for you, but don’t worry, we’re all the same and Japanese women/men will hardly notice you (or at least, they will pretend they don’t notice you).
First, leave your towel in your locker as you will only use it at the end, but do take a face towel with you. These come in handy for several reasons: you can use them to wash your body or to put on your face soaked in cold water when you are in the hot bath. That’s what Japanese people do so their head keeps cool.
There is no specific order for the baths, but you usually start with the ones inside and only then go to the ones outside.
Whatever you feel like doing, you need to wash (rinse) before you go into the bath. At this point, you don’t need to wash properly, with soap and everything. You can leave that for the end. In an onsen, all is provided for: soap, shampoo, conditioner, and more depending on the onsen.
If you are going to the sauna, make sure you rinse your body afterwards, ideally with cold water, before you go back into the bath, so as to wash away your sweat.
That’s it: you are ready to try your first onsen! If you’ve already tried onsen, where is your preferred one located?
We really liked the one we tried in Saga-Arashiyama, but are travelling tomorrow to Sanga Ryokan in volcanic Kyushu which offers a full-fledged traditional onsen experience.