A First-Timer’s Guide to a Relaxing Onsen Experience

Here's a rundown of everything you need to do.

Trying out an onsen in Japan for the first time can be pretty daunting, especially for people who aren’t familiar with how the onsen culture works. In reality, however, knowing how to conduct yourself inside an onsen isn’t as hard as it looks. In fact, the rules are very simple and easy to understand.

Follow our guide below for a more enjoyable and relaxing onsen experience.

1. Check if your body’s in the right state for an onsen.

The very first thing you need to know is whether or not your body’s fit for an onsen experience. Do not, by all means, enter an onsen after drinking alcohol or working out. Doing so will increase your blood circulation too much and result in dizziness. If you’ve just finished a workout, wait for 30 minutes to an hour before going to the onsen. You shouldn’t enter an onsen if you are sick either.

Bonus tip: We suggest that you only visit the onsen for a maximum of three times per day.

2. Prepare your onsen essentials.

Before heading over to the onsen place, make sure that you have all the items you need inside a small bag. Make sure you have the following: clean underwear (to change into after the bath), a bath towel (since some onsens don’t provide them), an additional bath towel (to wipe your body with before exiting the onsen), and a hair tie (for people with long hair).

3. Learn how to tell the male baths apart from the female baths.

One of the easiest ways to find out whether the public bath space you’re entering is for males or females is to look at the color of the curtain in front of the door. A blue curtain usually indicates that the bath is for males, while a red one shows that it’s for females. Just be extra careful when figuring out which bath space to enter. Some onsens switch curtains to allow guests to enjoy both spaces during their stay.

4. Place your slippers inside the provided shoe boxes.

Some establishments put a number card or a sticky note on the cubicles to keep guests from taking another person’s slippers by mistake. Other places, on the other hand, have numbered shoe lockers with keys.

5. Store your clothes inside the lockers.

For onsen places that only provide clothes baskets, you can, as per Japanese practice, put your bath towel on top of you clothes to hide your intimates from sight. But for others, small lockers are provided for visitors to store their valuables in and avoid theft. The locker keys also usually come with wristbands that guests can wear inside the bath.


6. Drink one glass of water before taking a bath in the onsen.

Following this special tip will keep you hydrated and prevent you from becoming dizzy when staying inside the onsen for a long period of time.

7. Wash your hair and body before entering the onsen.

First, enter the shower room. Make sure that you have your bath towel and hair tie with you. There should be a basin and a chair stationed at each shower area. If not, then you can simply take one set from the pile provided inside the room. Remember to wash both items before and after using them!

Next, wash your hair and body while using the bath towel to scrub away any dirt that might have clung to you. This will make sure that the onsen waters stay clean even after many visitors have used it. Another tip: Scrub yourself clean from the bottom to the top to allow your body to adjust to the temperature. It’s also advisable to take a shower while sitting down to avoid splashing water on other people.

8. Find your space inside the pool.

Most of the time, Japanese onsens have temperatures that go beyond 40 degrees celsius. If you’re not comfortable with really high temperatures, we recommend that you enter from the point farthest from the water spout. Easing yourself into the onsen waters is key. Dip only the lower half of your body first to allow it to adjust to the temperature before immersing yourself until your shoulders. Even if the bath looks like a swimming pool, running laps isn’t recommended.

Make sure to tie your hair into a bun and that your bath towel doesn’t touch the onsen water.

9. Visit the sauna first before taking a cold water bath.

Saunas are more effective when your body is warm. However, you shouldn’t stay in the sauna for more than 10 minutes at a time. The closer you are seated to the sealing, the hotter it will be. After warming up at the onsen or sauna, you can take a plunge in the cold water bath.The quick temperature change from hot to cold will effectively tighten your skin.

10. Follow protocol when exiting the onsen.

Onsen waters have medicinal effects on the body. If you want to let the effects to last longer, don’t rinse yourself after the bath. For people with sensitive skin, we suggest only lightly rinsing after taking a dip in the pool.


Before exiting the onsen, wipe yourself gently with a bath towel and wring it to get rid of the excess water.

It is also very important that you rehydrate and drink another glass of water. Wait until your body temperature has normalized before drying yourself with the other towel then dressing up.

If you find yourself in a situation wherein you’re not sure what to do next, you can just look around and follow what the locals are doing. Doing this will help you get the most out of your onsen experience.

Planning your trip to Sapporo? Make Karaksa Hotel Sapporo your home base. Book a room here!

Photos provided by Karaksa Hotel Sapporo

Provided by Karaksa Media Partner (29 November 2018)

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