My First-Time Experience in a Japanese Onsen & What I Wish I Knew | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
Japanese onsen is a type of hot spring bathing site in Japanese

My First-Time Experience in a Japanese Onsen & What I Wish I Knew

By Bidyaswar Huirongbam Jul 1, 2022

In this article, I will share my first experience at a Japanese onsen with you all, tell you what I wish I knew before going, and give you some first-time goer onsen tips! 

Have You Experienced Japanese Onsen Culture? 

I wish everyone could try this unique experience as a part of Japanese culture. Because of its distinctiveness, it is also one of Japan’s most popular tourist activities. A journey to Japan would be less gratifying if it did not include a visit to a Japanese onsen. All your concerns regarding being naked in front of strangers and friends will vanish after you’ve tried it. Just be cool; you’ll enjoy it afterward. Let’s begin your search and take advantage of this rare opportunity to experience an onsen while in Japan.

What is an Onsen?

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Visiting an Onsen is a common pastime in Japan. Onsen, meaning “hot spring” in Japanese, are firmly steeped in Japanese historical traditions and culture. Onsen in Japan refers to a place with bathing facilities using the waters of natural hot springs, and they are found all across Japan due to Japan’s active volcanic locations. The water in onsen contains a high concentration of minerals which produces the ideal environment for bathing and relaxing while also providing several health advantages.

 My First Onsen Experience

At first, I was nervous, and feeling unsafe and weird was nerve-racking. Surely it’s normal for everybody to feel such feelings at first if they have never tried it or have not experienced its beneficial qualities. Now, to me, it’s one of the best ways of relaxing the whole body with the mind simultaneously. I can’t imagine anything better than relaxing in a hot pool. Now it is on my list of things I look forward to doing on the weekends.

Because most of us had never experienced or attended an onsen, one of my professors planned an onsen visit as part of our yoga club. I wasn’t as excited as the other people at first! This is because you must bathe or soak in the water completely nude. Consider bathing with other people, naked, in the same room! I was a little frightened of what would happen. It was like surrendering to complete embarrassment, it was too tough for me, and I was never a fan of onsen until I experienced it myself.

As planned, we arrived at Kamiyu Onsen, an onsen resort with a large food court. We had to remove our shoes at the resort’s entrance and walk inside barefoot. After that, we secured our valuable things in the lockers. When we were heading to the dressing room, I was sweating a lot because it was pretty humid inside the resort. 

inside the Japanese onsen

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Before entering the dressing room, our professor reminded us of the dos and don’ts. Cameras are often not permitted inside the bathing area. Inside the bathing area, no large towels are allowed; just small towels you can use to cover yourself. We entered the dressing room with our professor and some of my classmates, and received a basket with a large towel and a little towel. The worst part for me was…

I had no idea what to do next! I was holding towels, and my friends began taking off their clothes as soon as we entered the changing room. In my mind, I thought: be strong, be brave, and don’t back down. But a large number of naked people were walking around the room. It was strange at first. Then I gathered all my bravery and began to remove my clothing and place my items in my locker. Most of the other people seem like they don’t care about being naked in front of anybody. For me, it’s a huge challenge. HAHAHA…to be like them. 

I was shocked actually and didn’t look around. I simply covered my body with the small towel and walked toward the shower area. At that time, the public bath area had few people. When my professor spotted my nervousness, he pointed me in the direction of the showers, showed me where the shampoo and soap were, and then sat to shower at the shower right next to me. What! Visiting onsen is a custom deep into Japanese culture and far different and very challenging for me! 

After a quick shower, my professor and I went to the public bath with other colleagues. I was thinking again that I should cover myself with the little towel when going to the public bath pool. But most people don’t bother themselves at all with that. I set my towel aside and immersed myself in the hot water. I didn’t look around and didn’t care whether or not they were looking. The water itself was a little hot for me at first, but after a few minutes, I was able to stay in. Wow…it was both calming and refreshing after I adjusted to the temperature of the water. At that point, I felt truly liberated, and my nervousness vanished. The professor said we should not stay in that water for more than 15-20 minutes, or else we’ll feel dizzy if we stay too long in the water. After 15 minutes, I got out of the hot water and dried myself with the small towel. I felt a one-of-a-kind experience because, aside from being naked, I just found out that my inner peace comes out just like the feeling after a serious exam. “Being naked in front of strangers,” I realized, is no big deal after experiencing the hot spring. I wish I knew this before to save me some trouble, but I’m glad I tried it! 

Some Tips for Shy People and International Residents for Japanese Onsen

Based on my own experience, I have some advice for you if you still feel weird or strange about such a visit. There are some recommendations from myself and others from friends from other nations.

From my experience, I can say that doing something new or unique does not always mean bad or worse. Sometimes, we need to adjust, adapt and live like the locals, and for someone like me, it may be a little uncomfortable to adapt quickly.

I highly recommend you try their unique part of onsen or sento (similar to an onsen, but the hot waters are not natural) culture if you haven’t tried or experienced it before.

Also you can read about onsen and how they work to be prepared, like this article!

Have you tried onsen before, or will it be your first time? Don’t hesitate, mark your calendar and enjoy the fantastic experience. Ultimately, you will surely get a unique experience and get used to it. It is worth a try. Now it is on my weekend must-do list.

Related articles here for you:

What is Onsen? The Ultimate Guide to Japan’s Most Popular Tradition

 Feature Photo Credit: Canva