bathing etiquette

A guide to Japanese bathing etiquette

So you want to experience the real public bath adventure that comes with a onsen (Japanese hot spa) or spend a night at a temple (Japanese public bath)? Here are the essentials. It is actually really easy and lots of fun if you remember a few things.

1. first of all: Locate your towels – 1x big / 1x small … got it? great!

1a. ideally bring one small plastic bag for your tiny (wet) towel afterwards

2. enter the bath area – look for indicators where the floor changes to tatami or another material. before this point you need to take of your shoes or slippers (in temples or private onsens you get house slippers)

3. find locker and/or basket

4. strip (yeah completely naked – don’t worry about it everyone does it and no one cares about your privates)

5. put everything except of the little towel in the basket

6. enter the spa/washing facilities

7. sit down on one of the chairs in front of the mirror – you have two water supplies – shower and bucket use either one (bucket is more old school) now wash yourself everywhere with the body wash and shampoo provided (you could bring your own but why bother – this is the place to get back to yourself) you can use your hands or the tiny towel/washcloth

8. everything is done while seated – behave like a normal person and you should be fine (for example it should be obvious that you shouldn’t spray others with water or sing loudly and so on)

9. rinse off all soap so you don’t drag it into the bath

10. wring out the washcloth

11. rinse of your work area 😉

12. get into the amazing hot waters (onsen are natural hot springs while public baths usually have a small pool/hot tub with hot mineralized water)

13. the only important thing is that the tiny towel doesn’t touch the water so put it on your head or at the side of the pool (i like it on my head because i think it looks cool)

14. sit as low as you want but no diving. your head and hair stays out of the water

15. relax, meditate or count tiles whatever floats your boat. the water is so hot that you won’t and shouldn’t stay more than 15 minutes – cool down outside if it gets too much either in a designated chill out area or at the shower stalls from before

(don’t bring any food, drink or anything else like magazines or your kindle – only the tiny towel)

16. change locations as much as you want (onsens have different baths/ public baths usually have only one “hot tub”)

17. repeat as much as you want (in public baths you usually only get in once and then get out but if you like it so much stay for a while)

18. there are a thousand articles who have a million more pointers but most are not necessary… just keep in mind – baths in japan are places of relaxation and hygiene so as long as you respect your body, the environment and the people around you will be fine)

19. done? great. get out and rinse of (some onsens have barrels with oversized ladles for that)

20. now use the wet washcloth/towel to dry of as much water as you can so you don’t drag water into the changing room

21. wring out the washcloth

22. enter changing area – now dry off properly with the big towel

23. you did it. congrats! now go and explore the bath world of japan


don’t get confused if locals stare sometimes (not at your junk) because the further away from tourist locations you get the less they probably have seen anyone that doesn’t look like them


make sure your onsen allows tattoos. most of them do but some are still very conservative


if you are on an onsen adventure and will visit more than one on a day for example in kinosaki you only need to soap up once when you enter and from that moment on rinsing off is enough


Here is our article to the temple we stayed in – Jokiin and the article about import things regarding Koyasan.