12 Must-Know Sento and Onsen Etiquette
Here is a guide to the essential manners for going to the sento/onsen - before and during the actual bath experience.
Mar 22 2015 (Apr 15 2020)
Japan has a rich culture of sento (public bathing houses) and onsen (hot springs). You can enjoy them almost everywhere in Japan, if you look in the right places. But there is certain etiquette you must follow. Here are 12 must-learn sento/onsen manners that will assure a pleasant experience not only for you, but for the ones around you too!
Let's start with the basics.
1. Keep Your Voice Low
You can talk with other people, just be careful of the volume. Most people are here to relax in peace and quiet. Even a normal volume echoes, so it sounds generally louder.
2. Hide Your Body With A Towel
You don't have to hide your whole body with a large towel. Just hide your private areas with a small towel.
3. Do Not Bring Extra Things Into the Bath
By extra things I mean cameras, cell phones, magazines, food, drink and so on. Basically permitted things would be: a small towel, hair ties, your locker key, and so on. For further inquires, check with the staff.
Moving on to etiquette at the washing place.
4. Don't Reserve your Place
If it's deserted, and the washing places are generally empty, you can leave your things to claim your place. But if it's crowded, the general rule is the person who sits there can use it. You can't reserve the washing place by leaving your things there.
5. Watch Out For The Shower
People walk by behind you, are washing beside you. The washing places are built compactly, so estimate where your shower water is going. Same say to dunk your head in the water. Don't spray your water at people.
6. Return Washing Tools Back to Where They Belong
When you borrow washing tools like small chairs and tubs, as shown in the image above, return them where they were in the first place. Some sento/onsen have a separate place to return these items. Look at what other people do and figure it out.
Here is the etiquette for the bath.
7. Always Kakeyu Before Entering Bath
Kakeyu (かけ湯) is the act of pouring hot water on the lower area of your body. By doing this, you can warm your body, preventing sudden shocks from temperature change, and rinse your body prior to getting in. Scoop some water from the bath, and splash it over your lower body. Some places have small baths especially for kakeyu.
8. Keep Your Hair Out Of The Way (If You Have Long Hair)
The bath water is for everyone. If you have long hair, try to keep it out of the water by tying it up using a hair tie, bundle it up in a shower cap, or use a small towel to keep it in place.
9. Do Not Wash Your Body In The Bath
Never wash your body in the bath using any kind of soap. The hot water is for everyone's use. Do not taint it or ruin its quality. You can massage your skin moderately in the water, but that's it.
10. Do Not Swim
I understand the urge. I think all kids experiencing such a large bath have the urge to do so (and probably went with it). If you swim, everyone in the bath would feel uncomfortable. If you want to swim, go to the pool. This is a bath.
11. Do Not Bring Your Towel Into The Water
Towels may seem clean, but they are filled with bacteria. Bacteria taints the water, so avoid touching your towel to the water at all times, Keep your towel folded on the hedge, or put it on your head.
12. Do Not Monopolize The Water
Tako Baths are small baths built for one person, as shown in the image above. Do not monopolize the water by yourself. If someone's waiting, get out of it. This applies for any kind of bath. If it's getting crowded, find your way out.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.