There is nothing quite as relaxing as slipping into the warm water at a Japanese hot spring. But as you get ready for tub time, you should be aware of the finer points of public bathing in Japan. Besides leaving your rubber ducky at home, we have compiled a list of key bath tips to ensure the best soak of your life without having to hear someone nag about the “lack of proper bathing manners these days.”

And since one of the more frustrating points of the Japanese bathing experience is a blanket ban on tattoos, we will also provide some context on why exactly your tribal sign tramp stamp is so unwelcome.

Whether you are going to an actual hot spring or a public bathhouse, here are nine things to keep in mind before entering the world of bathing in Japan.

1. Be prepared for nudity

Leave your swimming suit at home, because covering up will only get you strange looks. Although some venues may allow it, most places outright ban anything but your birthday suit. Some say that it is because swimsuits would “distract” from the peaceful feeling of the baths. Whatever the reason, place all of your clothes in a basket or locker in the changing room and then just embrace being naked with strangers. You can use your small towel or hand to cover your modesty if you like, but don’t be afraid to let it hang out.

▼ “Leave all of your clothes in this basket and go forth nude,” said no one trustworthy outside of a Japanese bath ever

2013.10.22 onsen clothes basket

On that same note, although most baths are gender segregated, be aware that some small children may go into the baths with their parents. So do not be surprised if a little boy is running around the women’s baths and vice versa.

2. Don’t drink and bathe, eat something and be mindful of your health

Between the sleep-inducing warm water, slippery surfaces and multitudes of nude people, this one is a no-brainer. As fun as it sounds, save yourself a trip to the hospital, prison or simply embarrassment-ville and leave the sake until after bathing.

Also, you should eat something to avoid bathing on an empty stomach. If you have any health conditions like high blood pressure or the early stages of pregnancy, it is best to talk to your doctor before taking in a long bath – these things can get seriously hot.

3. Tie up long hair

There are few things as indescribably disturbing as enjoying a peaceful soak in the tub, only to be interrupted by a long piece of hair from a stranger.

▼  Someone should have brought a hair tie

monkeys in the onsen

4. Shower before bathing

This sound counterintuitive, but the Japanese custom to shower before taking a bath makes a lot of sense when you think about how many people’s naked bodies with whom you are sharing the same water. The bath itself is just for soaking, so leave the cleaning and scrubbing to the shower stalls and be sure to wash every inch, and rinse all soap off, before heading anywhere near the bath itself.

Modern sento at Takayama

5. Don’t bring your towel into the water

Japan is serious about that nudity thing. Do not try to get around it by covering up with a towel. Feel free to use it to cover up while you are walking from the showers to the bath, but try not to let it touch the bathwater. While it may be clean, others may think that you are bringing a dirty towel into the communal water.

6. Don’t splash around or swim

You are not a child and the baths are not the place to train for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The whole idea of going to the baths is to relax and enjoy the calm, peaceful atmosphere, so just sit there and save the swim practice for gym pool.

7. Don’t change the water temperature

The bath water can be surprisingly hot at some hot springs. Instead of taking it upon yourself to regulate the temperature by dumping in cold water, let you body slowly get used to the heat. Many people go to these baths just because of the high temperatures and would be very disappointed if the water was suddenly lukewarm. If you find yourself getting too warm or feel uncomfortable, shift up onto a higher level in the bath (if possible) so that less of your body is submerged. Dip back down when you’re ready to warm up again.

8. Dry off when you are finished

When you are ready to leave the bathing area and return to the clothed world, try to dry off as much as you can before entering the changing room. This is what your towel (that you did not put in the water) is used for.

9. No tattoos

mummy baths

The most surprising rule at Japanese baths for a lot of foreigners is the outright ban on customers with tattoos. Apparently it is because many Japanese people cannot separate tattoos from their history in Japan where criminals were, and sometimes still are, notoriously covered in them.

▼ Don’t waste your time, boys – just bathe at home

yakuza tattoo

Baths are not the only places, many gyms, pools and saunas also forbid people with tattoos from entering. Some are especially harsh and even prohibit using makeup or bandages to conceal small tattoos. They may even cancel your membership if they find out! (Although this author can personally confirm that many places will turn a blind eye if you make some sort of effort to cover up)

Because of the close link in Japan to organized crime, many people still today have a very unfavorable view of tattoos. Even though some of that is changing with the increasingly westernized young generations, there are still extreme stories like civil servants being asked to reveal any tattoos.

Have you ever been turned away at a Japanese bathhouse for your tattoos? Have you ever seen a more lenient bathhouse allow tattoos? Let us know in the comments below!

Source: Naver Matome
Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6