It may come as a surprise to learn that communal bathing is as much a part of Japanese culture as raw fish or landscaped gardens. While public nudity might be considered the preserve of hippies and hooligans in the West, in Japan visiting a sentō (public bathhouse) or onsen (hot spring bath) in all your naked glory is nothing to be blushed at. And once you’ve come to terms with stripping off in front of a room full of strangers, you might just find yourself hooked on this invigorating, relaxing and super affordable pastime. It’s worth noting too that sentō and onsen are most often family friendly. Girls of 13-years-old and younger and boys of 8-years-old and younger may enter baths of either gender. Of course, this being Japan there are strict codes of conduct that should be adhered to when you visit a sentō or onsen. Here is our expert guide to public bathing like a pro.
On entering a public bathing facility you will be required to take off your shoes and change into slippers or flip flops (these will be provided or you can bring your own). You can store your shoes in the shoe lockers that are located at the entrance. The majority of sentō and onsen refuse entry to those with visible tattoos, so if possible cover up any body art with plasters or obscure them with a towel. Click on the link to find out more about how to beat Japan’s rules against tattoos in public baths and learn why some Japanese show little tolerance towards body art.
All public baths in Japan are segregated by gender, so once you’ve paid for your ticket, make sure you enter the correct changing room. In case it isn’t obvious which changing room is which, it’s worth taking note of these kanji: 女の湯 for women and 男の湯 for men. A ticket to a sentō will typically set you back ¥200 to ¥500, or around £1.50-£3.00. This is an optional activity on our Japan Budget Adventure tours.
Once you’re inside the changing room, strip off and leave your clothes and valuables in one of the lockers provided. All you need to bring through to the bathing area are a small towel and some soap and shampoo to wash yourself with.
Before entering the bath, it is very important that you wash first. Use the buckets, sinks and showers in the washing area to get yourself sparklingly clean.
Leave your towel at the side of the bath and languish in the steaming hot waters of the sentō or onsen. Remember, public bathing is an everyday occurrence in Japan and if you stick to these guidelines there will be no need to feel embarrassed!