One of the main benefits of staying at a ryokan is the opportunity to experience a hot spring bath, commonly known as an onsen. The onsen is typically an included amenity for guests to using at a ryokan. The bath hours can vary, but expect it to be available in the morning and evening daily. Men and women have their own separate bath areas.
What to Expect in an Onsen Area
When you step inside the bathing area, there is an area to store your robe, slippers, and other belongings in a basket or other container. Towels are available for use after bathing. You should find a sink, mirrors, hair dryer, and other items for grooming and drying off after using the bath. Near the actual bath, you will find stalls for rising off and showering. A stool and bucket along with soap and shampoo should be provided.
What to Wear and Bring to an Onsen Area
The proper attire for visiting the onsen is typically a cotton robe, also known as a yakata, along with slippers. No shoes or regular clothes should be worn. You can bring clothes to change into afterwards as long as you continue to wear slippers. In addition, you can bring grooming supplies, hair products, and anything else you may use after taking a bath or shower at home.
Rules for Using an Onsen
There are very specific rules to follow when using an onsen. You should find a poster or instructions inside the onsen area. Below is a list of rules you will commonly find posted.
1. Enter the bath naked - You are not allowed to wear clothes inside the bath. If you have a towel, you can put it on your head or on the side of the bath.
2. Do not put your head under water - You are not supposed to put your head under water.
3. Using the bathing stall prior to entering - You are expected to clean yourself with the provided soap and shampoo at a bath stall prior to entering the bath.
4. Tattoos are not allowed - You are not supposed to enter the tub if you have any body tattoos. More information regarding tattoos is further discussed.
5. Wear only the provided robe and slippers - This was mentioned above.
Can I Use the Onsen with a Tattoo?
Most of what you may read or hear will tell you that tattoos are not allowed. There is a cultural taboo against tattoos entering an onsen bath. However, there are a few ways to avoid upsetting others if you have a tattoo. The most common way to use an onsen with a tattoo is by covering it with a bandage. You can tape a cloth bandage to cover the tattoo so other guests cannot visibly see it. If it is a small tattoo, a band-aid will also work. This may work if you plan to use a large public bath outside of a ryokan. The other option is to use the onsen regardless of covering tattoos. In small ryokans, you may be able to get away with this because everyone else staying there is a tourist. If the tourists are not affluent with Japanese customs, they may fail to realize tattoos are banned. Also, you may be able to use the onsen without other guests around. Going late at night or very early in the morning will help avoid others and allow you to be the only one using the bath. Keep in mind that the rules do forbid tattoos at all times. These are merely suggestions to use an onsen without offending others. Your experience may vary depending on the facility.