Since October is the month of spooky scary things, I thought I would take some time and share with you all one of the most horrifying things I can imagine. Namely taking a bath naked with a group of equally naked strangers. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the top 10 anxiety nightmares in the world.

And yet, pretty much every single anime I have ever watched has tried to convince me that this activity is the most fun I could ever have. A living paradise really. It will cure you of what ails you and take all your worries away. Best of all, it’s exclusively frequented by impossibly attractive people of both genders.

As a true Canadian, the horrors of the beautiful naked human body are second only to the thought of being accidently rude to someone. Since I would really like to visit a Japanese onsen before I die, I figured this Halloween month is as good a time as any to face my fears. After several unsuccessful attempts at visiting local public pools naked, I decided to go with plan B and just study up as much as possible. I have scoured all available data (googled and read the 3 first hits) on the subject and put together this handy dandy little guide of what to do if you find yourself with people you don’t know in water. I’m confident that these guidelines are 100% accurate because the internet doesn’t lie, right?

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my high school really should have upped its field trip game

So what exactly even is an onsen?

Onsen 温泉 translates to “hot water spring” and is a natural hot spring bath, normally created by volcanic activity. There are similar hot springs and baths around the world (notably in scandinavian countries) but nowhere are they as prevalent as Japan.

Although there are some man made onsen, in order to be considered as such, they must contain at least one of the 19 designated chemical elements that naturally occur in hot spring water, and be at least 25 C. Rotenburo refers to an outdoors onsen. Not to be confused with Sento, which are indoor public bathhouses supplied by ordinary heated water.

Ready to go visit one?

Don’t be shy

Don’t ruin it before it even starts

First, figure out which are the male and female baths. Often the color of hanging curtain at the entrance is red for female and blue for male. Onsen have not been co-ed for quite some time and you probably won’t survive the embarrassment of barging into the wrong one…

You should keep in mind that a lot of onsens do not have toilets inside the changing room so you should take care of any business beforehand. Also make sure to be hydrated, don’t underestimate how hot it can get and food and drink are not allowed. So yeah, both take in and get rid of water. 

Shoes or slippers are also often not allowed in the change room so be careful to take them off before you get in.

** Glasses can be damaged by the minerals in the water, especially the coating on the lenses. It is best not to dip your them in the bath.***

Image result for anime onsen coed
that guy’s just ballsy

No shoes, no shirt, if you want service.

Look, I know a lot of us Europeans/Americans have been somehow convinced that human bodies are a disgusting sight to be hidden at all costs, but they’re not. It’s ok. We’re all in this together. There’s no way around the naked thing. You want to have the experience, well birthday suits are a big part of that.

If you really are that embarrassed, and you shouldn’t be because you’re quite attractive, believe me, there are some traditional ryokan inns where the guest rooms have private rotenburo baths attached (these will set you back hundreds in some cases thousands a night). There are also onsen with milky water that isn’t see through.

You can cover yourself with the small modesty towel while walking between the change room and bath for privacy if you like. People are cool with that.

Image result for anime bathtub free!
or you could always go for the discount option

Keep the fun, clean

I know it’s called a bath but it’s not actually a bath, it’s more like a soak or a spa… Basically, if sitting in a pool of your own filth sounds a little gross, how do you think sitting in a pool full of everyone’s filth sounds. That’s what I figured. Shower before you get in. And not in your hotel room before you go, people have to make sure you did it if they are to enjoy their own experience, so shower there.

Soap, shampoo and conditioner are usually provided, and you are expected to sit down on a stool while you shower. I’ll be honest, I hate that, but it’s considered bad manners to stand up while you wash, as you might splash one of the people next to you.

Make sure you hold onto the shower nozzle when turning on the water. That water pressure can get pretty high. Apparently, it’s also considered bad manners to accidentally knock out one of your fellow bathers with an out of control shower hose. Who knew?

And remember to tidy up your washing space after you finish and turn the faucet back to warm if you take a cold shower. I know you would always do that anyways, but you might get super excited and distracted since it’s your first time.

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nothing at all, it’s what I’m saying


You are probably going to get a small and a large towel. The large towel is for drying yourself and should be left in the changing room (along with your clothes). Don’t wrap it around yourself or bring it with you. It would most likely get soaked anyways so it’s a bad idea.

The small towel can be used for modesty and for scrubbing, you can take it into the bathing area, even directly into the bath with you. Common practice is to keep it on your head for safe keeping. This means fold it and plop it on and make sure it doesn’t fall in the water.

If you have long hair, bring a hairband or to wrap your hair in a small towel. It’s really bad form to get any hair in the water at all.

I just realized I hadn’t put a girl in yet

But they make me look cool

Fact is, tattoos are still rather unusual in Japan and heavily associated with Yakuza. This is slowly changing but they are not generally accepted in public and often outright banned in onsens.

If you happen to have a tattoo, you can always try covering it up with plasters or bandages. Makeup is not recommended since you have to shower first anyways and you don’t want to muddy the water with it.

If you have a very large tattoo, there are such things as yakuza bathhouses…Actually, forget I just said that. You’re gonna have to shower alone. It’s the price you pay for being a stud.

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so why is that skeleton wearing a towel?

Most importantly

Onsen and sento will generally not allow any alcohol. It’s also recommended that you not be completely sloshed. People always say stuff like that. I guess this is somewhat understandable since the temperature of onsens is usually around 40 degrees (40℃) or higher. So, it is not good for your health take a soak while heavily intoxicated. You’ll pass out like a delicate little seme and your meanest friend will make fun of you.

If you happen to have the incredible luck of having your own private rotenburo then by all means feel free to have a little sake and don’t forget to invite me!

One last thing, and I’m sure I don’t have to say this but just in case: onsens aren’t pools. No running, no diving and no swimming no matter how drunk you… aren’t.

Image result for anime onsen sake
I want to go to there

Now that we all know what to do, I guess I’ll see you there.

Suggested drink: Josephine’s Bath

  • Every time there is a hot springs episode – prepare your drink
  • Every time someone tries to sneak a peek at the opposite gender’s side – take a sip
    • if it’s a girl – down your drink
  • Every time someone compares their body to others – take a sip
  • Every time someone stands up in the bath – raise your glass
  • Every time girls start groping each other – cross your arms
  • Every time someone gets kicked/ has something thrown at them – take a sip
  • Every time two characters bond in a bath – take a sip
  • Every time someone loses their towel – get some refreshing water
  • Every time someone attempts to hide themselves – take a sip

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35 thoughts

  1. It was super educational and humourous! Irina’s done it again!!

    The tidbit about the minerals was super interesting. It’s like how Scotch whisky must be made in a manner specified by law to be considered whisky. Oh, gosh, I’m jumping straight to talking about booze. I wonder if I’ve been influenced by someone…

    Lovely post~ thanks for teaching us, Doc.

  2. Oh my gosh. I laughed so hard on the after several unsuccessful attempts to go the the public pool naked….😂 And I didn’t know you’re a Canadian as well! Where? I’m from Toronto.

  3. i went to okinawa once and they had this bath thing thats similiar to this but i think its the one you mentioned that was indoors. One of the girls with us went to it just to try it out and after she kept going bc she liked it. I dont think i’ll ever be going to one of these, I wont even let my mom see me without a shirt now strangers seeing me naked? No thank you! But I think its an interesting experience 😀 great post!

      1. LOL omg i was driving when I read this and the car next to me probs thought I was crazy when I burst out laughing. HMMM maybe that is the reason, afterall, an Official Stalker can’t have a stalker >:D

          1. Heh. I think it’s probably best to double check everything when you visit somewhere unfamiliar anyway. The last thing you want is to accidentally manage a terrible cultural faux pas.

    1. So should I be paying you for the QA? I feel like you’ve earned it.
      Changed the link for some reason kindred spirits broke 🙁

      Hope you can actually see this one.

  4. This was such a great post! I loved some of the sarcasm in it ” the internet is always right lol 😂😂”. But I don’t think you are the only one to have this fear. I don’t think I will ever go there either, no matter how many anime try to convince me it’s the most fun I would ever have lol. A really fun post: excellent reading after a hard day’s work. Certainly improved my mood that is 100% sure 😀

  5. To be fair, staring is considered pretty rude here, just as it would be in most other countries, so unless they’re tiny kids staring at the foreigner because they don’t know any better (or tiny old people staring at the foreigner because they have no shame anymore), you’re probably generally going to be left alone when visiting an onsen.

    I also found out after plenty of personal experience that if you have relatively small or discreet tattoos (as opposed to, you know, a full back piece of an entire sleeve), it’s likely to be okay at smaller, neighborhood type onsens. Mostly it’s the larger and more commercial places, some of which are more like whole spa complexes than anything else, that refuse entry without exception to people with tattoos.

    1. That’s actually really good to know. Everything I read made it seem like you would be thrown at the meerest suggestion of a tattoo.

      With my social graces, I’d probably end up as the weirdo gawking at everyone around me…

      1. Generally I cover mine with sports tape just to be on the safe side, but in one place I used to live where the onsen was quite literally almost next door to me, they didn’t mind my tattoos. It was a small village onsen though, and because the town was so small, they knew me pretty well. It also probably didn’t hurt that one of the onsen staff was a foreigner herself, a long-time Japanese resident from Morocco.

  6. I’d love to try an onsen sometime. I’m sure I’d also find it exceedingly embarrassing, since I’m not especially proud of my fat lump of a body, but I think before long the relaxation would outweigh the shame!

      1. I don’t know if “quite attractive” cuts it when you’re getting nekkid in front of strangers. The judgemental eyes! The staring! The pointing in horror!

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