An onsen (温泉) is a Japanese hot spring and the bathing
facilities and inns frequently situated around them. As a volcanically
active country, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout all
of its major islands.
Onsens come in many types and shapes, including outdoor (露天風呂
or 野天風呂, roten-buro or noten-buro) and indoor baths. Baths may
be either publicly run by a municipality or privately (内湯,
uchiyu), often as part of a hotel, ryokan, or bed and breakfast
The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the
symbol ♨ or the kanji 湯 (yu, meaning "hot water"). Sometimes the
simpler hiragana character ゆ (yu), understandable to younger
children, is used.
Indoor onsen at Ōfuka Onsen
Traditionally, onsens were located outdoors, although a large number
of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well. Onsens by
definition use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs.
Onsens are different from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the
baths are filled with heated tap water.
1 Mixed bathing
2.1 Ensuring cleanliness
5 Selected onsen
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Hakone from 1811
Traditionally, men and women bathed together at both onsens and
sentōs, but gender separation has been enforced since the opening of
Japan to the West during the Meiji Restoration.
Mixed bathing (混浴,
kon'yoku) persists at some special onsen in rural areas of Japan,
which usually also provide the option of separate "women-only" baths
or different hours for the two sexes. Men may cover their genitals
with a small towel while out of the water, while women usually wrap
their bodies in full-size towels. Children of either sex may be seen
in both the men's and the women's baths. In some prefectures of Japan,
including Tokyo, where nude mixed bathing is banned, people are
required to wear swimsuits or yugi (湯着, yugi), or yuami-gi, which
are specifically designed for bathing.
At an onsen, as at a sentō, all guests are expected to wash and rinse
themselves thoroughly before entering the hot water. Bathing stations
are equipped with stools, faucets, wooden buckets, and toiletries such
as soap and shampoo; nearly all onsen also provide removable shower
heads for bathing convenience. Entering the onsen while still dirty or
with traces of soap on the body is socially unacceptable.
Bathers are not normally allowed to wear swimsuits in the baths.
However, some modern onsen with a water park atmosphere require their
guests to wear a swimming suit in their mixed baths.
Onsen guests generally bring a small towel with them to use as a wash
cloth. The towel can also provide a modicum of modesty when walking
between the washing area and the baths. Some onsen allow one to wear
the towel into the baths, while others have posted signs prohibiting
this, saying that it makes it harder to clean the bath. It is
sometimes against the rules to immerse or dip towels in the onsen bath
water, since this can be considered unclean. In this latter case,
people normally set their towels off to the side of the water when
enjoying the baths, or place their folded towels on top of their
Onsen vary from quiet to noisy; some play piped music and often
feature gushing fountains. Bathers will engage in conversation in this
relaxed situation. There are usually prohibitions against rowdiness in
the washing and bathing areas. A small amount of excess energy and
splashing around is usually tolerated from children, however.
By 2015, around half (56%) of onsen operators had banned bathers with
tattoos from using their facilities. The original reason for
the tattoo ban was to keep out
Yakuza and members of other crime gangs
who traditionally have elaborate full-body decoration.
However, tattoo-friendly onsen do exist. A 2015 study by the Japan
National Tourism Organisation found that more than 30% of onsen
operators at hotels and inns across the country will not turn someone
with a tattoo away; another 13% said they would grant access to a
tattooed guest under certain conditions, such as having the tattoo
With the increase in foreign customers due to growing tourism, some
onsens that previously banned tattoos are loosening their rules to
allow guests with small tattoos to enter, provided they cover their
tattoos with a patch or sticking plaster.
The volcanic nature of Japan provides plenty of springs. When the
onsen water contains distinctive minerals or chemicals, the onsen
establishments typically display what type of water it is.
Some examples of types of onsen include:
Sulphur onsen (硫黄泉, iō-sen)
Sodium chloride onsen (ナトリウム泉, natoriumu-sen)
Hydrogen carbonate onsen (炭酸泉, tansan-sen)
Iron onsen (鉄泉, tetsu-sen)
Although millions of Japanese bathe in onsens every year with few
noticeable side effects, there are still potential side effects to
onsen usage, such as high blood pressure or heart disease.
Legionella bacteria have been found in some onsens with poor
sanitation. Revelations of poor sanitary practices at some
onsens have led to improved regulation by hot-spring communities to
maintain their reputation.
There have been reports of infectious disease found in hot bodies of
water worldwide, such as various
Naegleria species. While studies
have found the presence of
Naegleria in hot spring waters, the
Naegleria fowleri amoeba has not been identified.
Nevertheless, less than five cases have been seen historically in
Japan, although not conclusively linked to onsen exposure.
Many onsens display notices reminding anyone with open cuts, sores, or
lesions not to bathe. Additionally, in recent years onsens are
increasingly adding chlorine to their waters to prevent infection,
although many onsen purists seek natural, unchlorinated onsens that do
not recycle their water but instead clean the baths daily. These
precautions as well as proper onsen usage (i.e. not placing the head
underwater, washing thoroughly before entering the bath) greatly
reduce any overall risk to bathers.
Old Tsuru-no-yu Bathhouse in Nyūtō
Onsen area, Akita
Winter bathing at Tsuru-no-yu rotten-buro in Nyūtō, Akita
Onsen roten-buro in Kyushu
Japanese macaques enjoying a roten-buro open-air onsen at Jigokudani
Yumura-onsen's hot-spring resort and forests in Shin'onsen, Hyōgo
Dōgo Onsen hot springs (main building) in Matsuyama, Ehime
Ginzan Onsen in Obanazawa, Yamagata
Arima Onsen, Kobe, Hyōgo
Asamushi Onsen, Aomori Prefecture
Aso, Kumamoto, a famous onsen area alongside Mount Aso, an active
Atami Onsen (ja), Atami, Shizuoka, major onsen resort town near
Awara Onsen (ja), Awara, Fukui Prefecture
Awazu Onsen, Komatsu, Ishikawa
Beppu Onsen, Beppu, Ōita Prefecture, famous for its multi-coloured
Dake Onsen (ja), Nihonmatsu, Fukushima
Dōgo Onsen, Ehime Prefecture
Funaoka Onsen, Kyoto
Gero Onsen (ja), Gero, Gifu, famous for its free open bath on
riverbank of Hida River
Getō Onsen (ja), Iwate Prefecture
Ginzan Onsen, Obanazawa, Yamagata
Hakone, Kanagawa, famous onsen resort town near Tokyo
Hirayu Onsen (ja), Takayama, Gifu
Hokkawa Onsen (ja), Shizuoka
Ibusuki Onsen, Kagoshima Prefecture
Iizaka Onsen (ja), Fukushima
Ikaho Onsen (ja), Ikaho, Gunma
Iwaki Yumoto Onsen, Fukushima Prefecture
Iwamuro, Niigata, famous for onsen since the Edo period
Jigokudani, Nagano Prefecture
Jōzankei Onsen (ja), Hokkaido
Kaike Onsen (ja), Yonago, Tottori
Kakeyu Onsen (ja), Nagano
Kanzanji Onsen (ja), Shizuoka
Katayamazu Onsen (ja), Kaga, Ishikawa
Kawayu Onsen (ja), Tanabe, Wakayama
Kindaichi Onsen, Iwate
Kinugawa Onsen, Tochigi
Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture
Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma Prefecture
Misasa Onsen (ja), Misasa, Tottori Prefecture
Nagaragawa Onsen, Gifu, Gifu
Nanki-Katsuura Onsen (ja), Nachikatsuura, Wakayama
Shirahama Onsen, Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture
Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture
Nuruyu Onsen, Kumamoto Prefecture
Nyūtō Onsen (ja), Akita Prefecture
Onneyu Onsen (ja), Hokkaido
Ōfuka Onsen, Akita
Ryujin Onsen, Tanabe, Wakayama, one of Japan's famous three
Sabakoyu Onsen, Fukushima Prefecture, the oldest community onsen in
Sakunami Onsen, Miyagi
Sawatari, Gunma Prefecture
Senami Onsen (ja), Niigata Prefecture
Shima Onsen, Gunma Prefecture
Shimobe Onsen (ja), Yamanashi Prefecture
Shiobara Onsen (ja), Tochigi Prefecture
Shuzenji Onsen (ja), Shizuoka Prefecture
Sōunkyo Onsen (ja), Hokkaido
Sukayu Onsen, Aomori Prefecture
Sumatakyō Onsen (ja), Shizuoka Prefecture
Suwa, Nagano Prefecture
Takanoyu Onsen, Akita Prefecture
Takaragawa, Gunma, one of the largest outdoor mixed baths in Japan
Tsubame Onsen (ja), Niigata - famous for its free open mixed
Tsuchiyu Onsen, Fukushima Prefecture
Tsukioka Onsen, Niigata (ja), Niigata Prefecture
Tsurumaki Onsen (ja), Kanagawa
Unazuki Onsen (ja), Kurobe, Toyama Prefecture
Wakura Onsen, Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture
Yamanaka Onsen, Kaga, Ishikawa
Yamashiro Onsen, Kaga, Ishikawa
Yubara Onsen (ja), Okayama Prefecture, one of the largest mixed
baths at the foot of Yubara dam
Yudanaka Onsen (ja), Nagano Prefecture
Yufuin, Ōita Prefecture
Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture
Yumura Onsen (ja), (Shin'onsen, Hyōgo)
Yunogo Onsen, Okayama Prefecture
Yunokawa Onsen, Hokkaido
Yunomine Onsen (ja), Tanabe, Wakayama, site of the UNESCO World
Heritage Tsuboyu bath
Zaō Onsen, Yamagata Prefecture
Taiwanese hot springs
Three Ancient Springs
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