10 Thoughts I Had Visiting A Japanese Naked Public Bath (Onsen)
Onsen - public baths heated by a natural hot spring - are a central part of Japanese culture...
Recently, I visited my first ever onsen in the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan.
Onsen - public baths heated by a natural hot spring - are a central part of Japanese culture and many people will visit them twice or even three times a day to bathe and relax.
But before you don your swimming costume (spoiler alert: you won’t need one!), the main thing you need to know about visiting an onsen is that no clothes (or swimsuits) are allowed. Yikes.
Here are a few things that ran through my mind during my first ever visit to a naked public bath:
omg I’m totally naked
There’s no getting away from the fact that I had to pluck up the courage to leave my shoes, clothes AND swimming costume outside in the changing room and enter in just my birthday suit. Thankfully, you are given a small modesty towel to cover your….ermm… modesty.
PLEASE say I went through the right door...
There are usually separate baths for men and women (phew - I’m not that brave) but sometimes the same bath will be reserved exclusively for different sexes at different times of day. So the start of every visit (that’s right, I went back more than once!) included a paranoid check, double check, triple check of the signs to make sure I was definitely going through the red curtain (for women) at the entrance not the blue one (for men).
Getting the wrong door would just be too embarrassing for words.
I Need some dutch courage
Much as stripping off in front of strangers would have been easier after a beer (or ten), a bit of dutch courage was off the cards as alcohol isn’t allowed in the onsen. There are several other rules too: no swimming, diving or splashing – and definitely no ‘heavy petting’.
Am I clean enough?
The ritual of washing is a really important part of visiting a Japanese onsen. There are small stools with basins and showers to sit and wash yourself before you begin bathing and you’re expected to thoroughly wash yourself before you get into the pool.
Nervous of offending anyone by not showering for long enough, I spent a ridiculously long time at the washing stations just to be sure...
Don’t I know you?
One of the reasons hanging out naked for the afternoon wasn’t too daunting was because I knew I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew. Until my tour guide walked right in. Oh hi…
Where can I put this towel, again?
When you visit an onsen, you’re given a small towel to use as a washcloth and bring with you into the baths themselves. You can pop it on the side while you’re bathing or place it on your head but I was told that it’s considered rude to dip it into the water or wring it out.
Of course, this meant I spent a large amount of time putting it on the side then on my head while trying to decide where it would be safest from getting wet.
I’m so fkn brave right now
In between periods of enjoying the spa-like benefits of relaxing in the warm water, I did occasionally remember I was confident enough to be out in public naked.
Am I wearing this right?
One of my favourite things about visiting the onsen, was putting on my yukata (robe) and lounging around afterwards. As with most other things at the onsen, there’s a set way you’re supposed to wear your yukata. I’m pretty sure I crossed it the wrong way (should be left section over right) and looked like a total rookie.
Once I lost my inhibitions about the ‘I’m completely starkers’ thing, I realised hanging out in the nude with a load of random Japanese women isn’t that bad.
Spending the afternoon in the naturally heated pools was super relaxing and the mineral water is even supposed to have healing powers. Relaxing in an outdoor onsen overlooking the ocean, I could see why they are so popular.