Visiting an Onsen Ryokan

Japanese Snow Monkeys in Hot Spring
Japanese Snow monkey Macaque in hot spring Onsen Jigokudan Park, Nakano, Japan

One of the best things about our Culinary Tour of Japan is on 4th night we will be staying at a traditional Onsen Ryokan in Nagano prefecture. People all over the world, have flocked to naturally occurring hot springs for relaxation and therapeutic benefits, and you should too. As an added icing on the cake, we will also be enjoying a regional multi-course kaiseki style dinner that night at the ryokan.

One of the benefits of being a volcanically active nation is an abundance of naturally, heated springs. There are thousands of these mineral rich hot springs scattered about the country, and dedicated hotels, Onsen Ryokan, catering to the onsen experience. The sulfur and magnesium present in the hot springs are said to promote skin health, while the heat promotes relaxation and reduced back pain and inflammation.

Before jumping in, there are a few important rules of etiquette to follow:

  1. Get Clean First ( very important )
    This should be obvious since they are natural springs, but sometimes travelers from other countries aren’t aware for the importance of cleaning up first. In the bathing area, there are small stools for you to use. Generally people don’t stand up and take or shower, they sit on the stool or squat down while the wash up.
  2. Get in your Birthday Suit
    That’s right. Don’t be shy, it’s a Japanese hot spring not a nudist camp or anything like that. This is a big part of culture in Japan. There is a term called hadaka no tsukiai or socializing while naked, and is related to the belief that you truly get know someone when they have nothing to hide behind.
  3. No Pictures
    Obviously, no pictures at the onsen. Leave your camera or your phone in your hotel room or with the front desk.
  4. Noise
    People in Japan don’t really have the habit of rocking out in the hot tub like we do in Aspen or wherever. As guests in the country, please be mindful of local customs and norms, and be mindful of others sense of space. As sustainable travelers, our goal is to travel while having only a positive impact.
  5. Robe and Towels
    Policies may differ from place to place, but if you are staying overnight you will be provided with a yukata – a robe to wear from your hotel room to the hot spring pools. Towels should be in your room as well and be mindful of where to place your wet towels when finished.