Guide to Taking a Japanese Bath | How To Take a Japanese Bath 101

guide to japanese bath

Wondering how to take a Japanese bath? Here’s a guide to taking a Japanese bath! Check it out

Japan is a nation that’s way ahead of its time with new technological advancements and its journey to the modern era has been quite impressive. However, the Japanese take their culture very seriously and they stick to it regardless of modernization. It’s the Japanese bathing practice we’re here to talk about. 

It’s a traditional practice of the Japanese to bathe in public baths where they can put back all their stress and relax peacefully. The Japanese take breaks from work to enjoy a steamy bath in natural hot springs. In fact, there are over 3000 hot springs in Japan due to its volcanic mountains. 

If you want to experience a traditional Japanese bath then there are some set of rules you have to follow. We’re here to help you with that as we have prepared a complete guide you might need when going to a public Japanese bath.

Guide to Taking a Japanese Bath

Types of Japanese Baths

Before we learn how to participate in a Japanese bath it’s best we familiarize ourselves with the types of Japanese baths that are available. There are two types of Japanese baths that differ due to the temperature and the source of water. 

The first type of Japanese bath is called Sento. This refers to a Japanese public bathhouse where water is heated to a certain temperature and people go to enjoy a normal bath. 

This is similar to the bathing practices we do at home where we sit in a tub with heated water and relax.

Guide to Taking a Japanese Bath

Meanwhile, the other type of Japanese bath is called Onsen which is a public bathhouse where the water used comes from the natural hot springs. 

This water has a temperature above 25 degrees Celsius and is rich in mineral components like lithium and hydrogen ions. People attend onsen baths to not just have a relaxing experience but also to enrich their bodies with the minerals available in the natural hot spring.

Differences Between Onsen and Sento Bathhouses

While both Japanese bathing practices involve public bathing there are certain differences between them. 

As we’ve mentioned, Onsen bathing houses use naturally heated water from hot springs and their temperature is generally between 25 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius. 

Onsen bathing is generally more beneficial to your body as the hot springs contain various ions that help your body in blood circulation, detoxify your digestive system, oxygenate your cells and completely relieve all your mental stress and physical pain.

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Onsen is a traditional Japanese bathing practice that was followed by ancient Japanese for more than 1000 years. 

Onsen bathing houses are usually set in an outer environment where you can watch natural exotic sceneries while bathing. There are also Onsen pools that can be used privately.

Meanwhile, Sento is a public bathhouse where tubs are built either inside a building or out. The water temperature in a Sento differs from place to place and the water is heated artificially. 

There are also Sento services provided by luxury hotels such as Super Sento. In a Super Sento, you’ll find other services being provided like saunas and spas, etc. They are quite expensive than regular Sento bathhouses.

Rules Before Entering a Japanese Bathhouse

Keep in mind that the Japanese bathe in bathhouses completely naked. Although this caught me off guard at the beginning, there’s beneficial reasoning behind this practice. 

It helps you get rid of all that mental stress and physical pain and bathing naked in hot springs ensures the minerals enter your body effortlessly. 

  • Every bathhouse in Japan is equipped with lockers that are numbered. Place all your clothes and valuable belongings inside the lockers and make sure to take the key with you. 
  • You’ll find baskets provided in the bathhouses where you can put your shampoo, towels, and your locker key.
  • Before entering into the hot spring or hot tubs you are required to take a mini shower called Kakeyu. This is to ensure that you’re clean from sweat and impurities and also for you to adapt to the hot temperatures in the bath. 
  • While taking a shower clean yourself with shampoo or body wash and wash thoroughly. You’ll find chairs in the shower area which you can use while showering. Make sure to clean them as well.
  • Once you’re done with the mini shower you’re good to go to the public bath. Step into the water carefully and slowly without a rush. You can keep the basket away from the tub in a place where you can easily access it.
  • You can use your towel to wipe your sweat but ensure you don’t put it in the water.
  • Soak your body in the water and relax and give no heed to any stress.

Rules after the Japanese Bath 

  • Immediately after bathing make sure to dry yourself with a towel and you can put on your bathrobe as you walk to the dressing room.
  • Make sure to take your basket with you where you have placed your locker key and towels etc.
  • Make sure you are not dripping wet before entering the dressing room.
  • You can now open your locker and put on your clothes and take your belongings.
  • Make sure to place the key in the locker before departing.
  • You will find hairdryers in most bathhouse dressings rooms which you can use for free.
  • Keep everything in place and tidy your surroundings before leaving. 
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Now that we’ve covered the most important rules that are required to follow when entering a Japanese bathhouse, it’s best we move on to talk about certain actions or practices that are completely forbidden or are frowned upon by the Japanese when going into a bathhouse.

Dos and Don’ts of Japanese Bath

  • Do take a small towel with you to the bath.
  • Take a shampoo with you to the shower room where you can wash yourself thoroughly.
  • Keep all your belongings in the locker and take a basket with you where you can keep your towel.
  • You can place a towel on your head to wipe your sweat.
  • You can talk to people around you in the bath but be polite with them.
  • You can take kids to the public bath but keep an eye on them. 
  • Don’t jump into the water as the heated water may splash into others and cause them harm.
  • Don’t swim around the bath as the main purpose of the bath is only to relax.
  • Don’t wear any clothes, accessories, sandals, or make up to the bath.
  • Don’t take your phone with you.
  • Don’t hustle around the water.
  • Don’t talk too much when in a public bath.
  • Don’t go to a public bath when you’re menstruating.
  • You’re not allowed into a public bath if you have any tattoos as the Japanese consider it to have frowned upon.
  • Don’t shout or make any unnecessary noise when in the public bath.
  • Don’t take your pets to the bath.
  • You’re not allowed to take any pictures when you’re in the bath.
  • Don’t stay too long in the bath.
  • Don’t stare at anyone as it is considered rude by the Japanese.

In conclusion, all you need to pay attention to when going to a Japanese public bathhouse is to enjoy a peaceful bath and to drain away all your stress. 

If you want to have a healthy and calming bath you can visit any Onsen in Japan as it’s enriched with minerals that are beneficial for your body. For a regular bath, you can go to Sento bathhouses where you can just relieve and relax.

Taking a Japanese Bath: FAQs

What are the rules for bathing in an onsen?

How long do Japanese people bath?

Japanese people are known to love bathing, especially in public baths. The duration of how long Japanese people bathe depends from person to person but most people spend between 20 to 30 minutes in the bath.

Is it normal to bathe with friends in Japan?

It’s a traditional Japanese practice to bathe naked in public bathhouses with friends, family, or even complete strangers. The Japanese people believe that being completely naked in baths will help them drain away their stress and any physical pain. In addition, it’s beneficial to swim naked in onsen as you can easily absorb the minerals to your body

Why are tattoos not allowed in onsen?

People with tattoos aren’t allowed into onsen because the Japanese believe that tattoos are associated with organized crime and hence people with tattoos are frowned upon in Japan. Although it’s an old age thought, the Japanese people are still wary about tattoos.

Are onsens unisex?

Onsen is a public bathhouse where natural hot spring water is used for bathing. In ancient Japanese traditions, both men and women would bathe together. However, currently, onsens have separate onsen facilities for both genders. There are also a couple of onsens in Japan that are unisex.

Can you wear a towel in an onsen?

You can wear a towel to the onsen but you’re supposed to leave the towel in a basket and go naked to the water. You can still hold a small towel to wipe your face but it should only be kept on your head. 

What is a sento in Japan?

Sento refers to public bathhouses in Japan where people can visit for a warm and relaxing bath. It became popular after World War 2 when people didn’t have bathing areas in their homes and would visit the public bathhouse for a bath. 

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