While Japan is not the only country with ‘onsen’ hot springs, it is certainly home to a considerable number of them. In fact, there are said to be more than 2,500 onsen locations in Japan which are suitable for bathing.
So why does Japan have so many onsen? While the country’s numerous volcanoes have obviously played a major role in their formation, the Japanese people’s love of onsen is also an important factor. This fondness has inspired the development of a great number of onsen which are suitable for bathing and may even explain why hot springs in Japan vastly outnumber those in countries with a similar amount of volcanic activity.
Japan’s hot and humid climate has meant that onsen have long been very popular among the Japanese as a way to work up a sweat and feel refreshed. Over the years the Japanese have also learned from experience about the various health benefits of onsen bathing.
As people began to visit onsen in greater numbers, so too did Japanese-style ‘ryokan’ inns and recreational facilities begin to develop in these areas. Although some people bathe in onsen in the hope of curing their ailments, most see it as a form of enjoyment because it lifts the spirits and promotes a healthy appetite. The custom of visiting an onsen resort to bathe, relax and enjoy delicious cuisine and entertainment is in fact a well-established part of Japanese traditional culture.
Another attraction of onsen is that they provide bathers with an opportunity to experience the natural splendor of Japan’s four seasons. From the snow-covered landscapes of winter, to the red and yellow-leaved forests and mountains of autumn, the fresh, verdant young leaves of spring, and the teeming natural vitality of summer, onsen bathing is an excellent way to encounter nature first hand. Prince Hotels feature a wide variety of onsen, from ‘rotenburo’ outdoor hot spring baths to those which afford magnificent ocean or mountain views. We invite you find an onsen which appeals to you.
Guide to onsen bathing
In Japan, it is customary not to wear undergarments or clothing of any kind when entering an onsen. Although a small number of onsen do permit bathing in swimwear, these establishments are the exception rather than the rule. Please remember that in Japan, bathing without any clothing is considered to be the correct etiquette and that even bringing a towel into the bath is frowned upon as bad manners.
Many people share the hot water in onsen baths so it is essential to wash yourself thoroughly before entering in order to ensure that the water remains as clean as possible. This is a very important point to remember before bathing.
Now we will describe the correct way to bathe in an onsen. Before entering, scoop some hot water into one of the buckets which are provided and gently pour it over yourself. Start with your feet and legs then gradually work your way up. This process is referred to as ‘kakeyu’ and is intended to acclimatize your body to the hot water in the onsen.
After performing ‘kakeyu’, enter the bath where the temperature is lowest. Most onsen have an area where the hot water pours into the bath. Because this is hot water, it follows that this is typically the hottest part of the onsen. The area furthest from here should therefore have the lowest temperature. Once your body has adjusted to this lower temperature, try moving gradually into the hotter part of the onsen according to your preference. This is the method used by onsen aficionados.
Enter the onsen slowly feet first. This approach allows your body to gradually adapt to the temperature but is also preferable because entering the onsen with a big splash is inconsiderate to other bathers. To that end, be sure to enter the water calmly and quietly.
Staying in the onsen for a long time is not good for your health. Once you begin to feel slightly fatigued, it’s time to get out. In addition, do not enter an onsen if you have consumed alcohol as doing so may pose a risk to your health.
Now that you are acquainted with the rules and customs of bathing, you are ready to enjoy the Japanese onsen experience!