Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, stunning landscapes, and rich cultural heritage.
One quintessential Japanese experience that visitors must indulge in is soaking in an onsen, a traditional Japanese hot spring. Onsens are not only a relaxing retreat but also an opportunity to immerse oneself in Japanese culture and etiquette. Onsens are also generally not expensive, so you should be able to fit it in your cost of vacation to Japan.
To ensure a respectful and enjoyable onsen experience in Hokkaido, it’s essential to understand and adhere to certain customary practices and manners. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the onsen etiquette specific to Hokkaido.
Guide to Onsen etiquette
Here are some general rules that you can follow when you visit an onsen in Hokkaido:
1. Cleanse Before Soaking
Before stepping into the soothing waters of an onsen, it’s customary to wash and rinse off thoroughly. Typically, there will be showers or washing stations equipped with stools, handheld showers, soap, and shampoo. Visitors are required to cleanse themselves meticulously, ensuring they are completely clean before entering the communal baths. This practice emphasizes hygiene and respect for others.
2. Nudity is the Norm
In Japanese onsens, bathing is done without clothing, so visitors are expected to disrobe completely. While this may feel unfamiliar to some, embracing nudity is an essential aspect of the onsen experience. You’ll find that once you immerse yourself in the tranquil atmosphere and the beauty of the surroundings, any initial reservations will dissipate.
3. Towels and Modesty
Upon entering the onsen, you’ll be provided with a small towel, known as a ‘modesty towel’ or ‘tenugui.’ This towel is intended for modesty and can be placed strategically to cover yourself while walking between the baths or sitting on the side. However, it’s not meant to be submerged in the communal bath, so keep it out of the water.
4. Hair and Ties
Long hair should be tied up to maintain cleanliness and prevent it from touching the water. You’ll find small hair ties available in most onsen facilities. It’s also recommended to keep any accessories or jewelry off to maintain cleanliness and safety.
5. Quiet and Tranquility
Japanese onsens are places of serenity and relaxation. Maintaining a quiet and peaceful atmosphere is essential. Refrain from loud conversations, and use your indoor voice to respect the tranquil ambiance and allow everyone to unwind and enjoy the experience.
6. Tattoos and Onsen Culture
While tattoos are becoming more accepted in Japan, some onsens still maintain a no-tattoo policy due to historical associations with the yakuza (Japanese organized crime). However, in Hokkaido, the attitude towards tattoos is relatively relaxed compared to other regions. It’s advisable to check the onsen’s policy in advance and choose onsens that accommodate visitors with tattoos.
7. Rinse Off Again
After soaking, it’s courteous to rinse off again to cleanse your body of minerals from the onsen water. This practice ensures you leave the onsen feeling refreshed and clean.
8. Rehydration and Relaxation
After bathing, it’s essential to rehydrate by drinking water or perhaps enjoying a refreshing beverage like green tea. Many onsens offer relaxation areas where you can unwind, read, or simply appreciate the beautiful surroundings.
Hokkaido offers a plethora of onsens scattered throughout its picturesque landscape, and each onsen may have its unique variations in etiquette. Adhering to these onsen customs not only demonstrates respect for Japanese culture but also enhances the overall onsen experience. Embrace the opportunity to immerse yourself in this traditional Japanese practice and let the therapeutic waters of Hokkaido’s onsens rejuvenate your body and soul.