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Anyone have experience with Japanese On-sen/hot springs?


helenb
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Has anyone tried the Japanese baths on a shore excursion? I am looking at the one in Sakaiminato, the Kaike-Onsen. I know that you have to be completely naked to use them (which freaks me out a little... my old body is not really meant for public viewing). I'm just wondering if someone could tell me what their experience was, going there on a cruise ship excursion? Was it gender-separated? Were there patrons other than the cruise ship passengers? I have heard that in general, foreigners are subject to much 'scrutiny' in the baths, and I certainly don't want that! I'm going to be uncomfortable enough being naked. Yet I also feel like this is a cultural thing that I want to experience.

 

A little information would definitely help me prepare for this. Please share!

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I will give some perspective from Male's point of view experiencing a Japanese Single Sex Onsen for the first time.

 

First and foremost the Japanese custom of OUTSIDE SHOES vs INDOOR SHOES  cannot be stressed enough. I'm Chinese American (58 Yr Old American Born) and was raised and still keep the custom of removing your shoes and wearing slippers when you come inside your home.  In Japan, however, in places like on Onsen it is Mandatory and something you'll encounter right as you walk in. Even before paying the entrance fee I was instructed to remove my shoes and place it in a locker right at the entrance. The attendant didn't speak a word of English and it took several comical tries to understand what he wanted me to do. 

 

 The key to the Onsen experience is following the rituals from the beginning.  This starts with bathing yourself BEFORE entering the hot tubs. Instead of standing showers Onsens have individual waist-high washing stations. The procedure is to sit on the accompanying stool, and using the assigned plastic bucket/pail/bowl fill it with water and wash yourself. You sit on the stool facing the wall(usually there's a mirror) and completely wash your whole body. These washing stations are not private so you are sitting next to someone doing the same thing.  Once you are finished only then do you enter into the various hot tubs.  Yes everyone is naked and that's how it is. You are generally given only two towels; a large towel and a small 'face cloth'. The large towels is meant for you to to leave in your locker to dry yourself off. The Smaller face cloth is meant either to wash yourself and/or as a coverup to your genitals as you are moving about from tub to tub. Once submersed in the water most Men put the face cloth on top of their heads. You may also get a small lightweight robe. Many onsens have Sleeping rooms where after many long soaks you would don your robe, go into a resting room (Which resembles army barracks with rows of bunk beds) and literally take a nap. It is usually a dark, VERY QUIET place. 

 

One side note face cloths are considered very intimate, personal items in Japan and thus you will see them individually wrapped in many hotels.  

 

In summary I found the experience very unique, relaxing and once I 'UNDERSTOOD' the specific rituals it was an enjoyable experience. At home I enjoy using the steam and sauna rooms after my gym workouts and also the whole Spa experience when on vacation so the Onsen concept is not totally new to me. t

The nudity aspect wasn't an issue at all FOR ME.  

Edited by kwokpot
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Kwokpot gave you a very detailed description of using the onsen.  May I just add that "Once submersed in the water most Men put the face cloth on top of their heads" is because it is taboo to put that wash cloth in the water.  Leave it on your head or outside on a rock or what have you.

 

Please give it a try. 

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Going to the onsen was one of the highlights of our trip to Japan and I urge you not to miss the experience.  My husband and I honeymooned in Japan and we are both clearly not Japanese [I am Caucasian and he is Chinese] and we did not feel out of place at all.  I, too, was a little apprehensive about being completely naked with strangers as I'm pretty self-conscious about my body but honestly once I was there for 5 minutes I felt pretty comfortable.  This is a time-honored custom for many Japanese and you will see all ages and body types in the baths so there is little to feel self-conscious about.  Kwokpot gave an excellent account of the experience so I won't repeat it but I did want to address your concern about being naked and tell you not to worry about it.  I've heard of occasional exceptions but 95% of onsen are indeed separated by gender and the majority don't allow tattoos.

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  • 3 months later...
On 1/26/2020 at 2:17 AM, helenb said:

Has anyone tried the Japanese baths on a shore excursion? I am looking at the one in Sakaiminato, the Kaike-Onsen. I know that you have to be completely naked to use them (which freaks me out a little... my old body is not really meant for public viewing). I'm just wondering if someone could tell me what their experience was, going there on a cruise ship excursion? Was it gender-separated? Were there patrons other than the cruise ship passengers? I have heard that in general, foreigners are subject to much 'scrutiny' in the baths, and I certainly don't want that! I'm going to be uncomfortable enough being naked. Yet I also feel like this is a cultural thing that I want to experience.

 

A little information would definitely help me prepare for this. Please share!

 

 

Can wait to try these next year apparently you get a small hand towel to cover your modesty 😂 

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For anyone looking for a very "safe" first-time Japanese onsen experience, I'd recommend Oedo Onsen Monogatari. It's a tourist-friendly onsen in Tokyo, sort of like an onsen theme park. Lots of different baths with water piped in from kilometers underground, and a food court and games center sort of setup. We went during our first time in Japan during our pre-cruise stay in Tokyo, and they were great with instructions and directions on how the onsen process worked. 

Here's what I didn't understand before going: the onsen is like a social experience. We saw Japanese teens there hanging with their friends, coworkers, families, etc. It's completely different from what you'd expect, and really a cultural highlight of any trip to Japan. As long as you don't have any tattoos that you can't cover up, I'd say it's a do-not-miss. 

Also, my husband and I were some of the few westerners at the onsen, but certainly weren't scrutinized. As long as you're scrubbing down well in the shower before getting into the baths, no one is going to give you a second look. 

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  • 3 months later...

Or you could stay in an Onsen town like Kinosaki onsen which is about an hour from Kyoto by train, and be able to book a private onsen in your hotel.  Great for a first time visit.  

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