Japan has a culture of public baths. A sento is a public bath placed in towns. An onsen is a hot spring, usually located in the mountains. Either way, they both have a common system of use. Here are the 10 steps to follow when using a sento or an onsen. For proper sento/onsen etiquette, check my other article referring to this topic.
1. Put Your Shoes in Lockers / Boxes
Most places do not allow you to walk in with your shoes on. You have to put your shoes in lockers (sometimes requires a coin payment) or in boxes like above. Don’t forget your shoe locker key or where you placed your shoes.
2. Pay Entrance Fee
Entrance fees may be paid by person at the reception desk or via machine. Prices differ from place to place. Be sure to research beforehand. Some places are free!
3. Go Into Respective Bath Areas
Most baths are separated by sex. If you’re a woman, go into the female section. If you’re a man, go into the male section. They are parted by colors (blue for men, red for women) or by kanji (女 for women, 男 for men). For example, as shown in the image above, the red section is for women, and the blue section is for men.
4. Claim Your Basket / Locker / Box
In the changing rooms, people use baskets, lockers, or boxes (as shown in image above) to keep their belongings. Choose an empty basket, locker, or box and place your items there. If you’re using a locker, you may need some change. Also, keep track of your locker key (often they’re on rubber bands you can wear around your wrist), and remember where your stuff is.
4. Get Naked
Take your clothes off, and place them neatly into your space. Don’t invade other people’s space. When leaving to the baths, use a small towel to hide your genitals.
5. Enter Bath
Doors to the baths are usually sliding doors. Slide them slowly, and avoid making excess noise. After entering the baths, close the door slowly. Doing this, you can avoid letting the heat and moisture escape to the changing rooms.
6. Do Kakeyu
Kakeyu is the act of pouring hot water over your feet, legs, and genitals. This warms your body and helps you avoid shock when entering the bath. It also cleans your body. Be sure to perform this before entering the water. Some places have small baths (as shown in image above) made just for kakeyu.
7. Enter Baths or Wash Your Body
If you’ve done kakeyu, you’re good to go into the water. You can wash your body at the washing cubicles before or after having a bath. Be careful while moving around in the baths. The floors can be slippery. Need not to say, avoid excessive contact with other people. Be nice!
8. Leave Baths
When you’re satisfied, leave the baths. Be sure to return any utensils, such as stools, to their respective places. If you’ve brought anything of your own, don’t leave it behind.
9. Dry Your Body And Wear Clothes
Go back to your place in the changing room, and dry your body. Be careful not to leave excessive water droplets around. Change into your clothes, being careful not to leave a mess behind, and take your belongings.
10. Don’t Forget Your Shoes
Don’t forget to retrieve your shoes from lockers or boxes. Always check your belongings. If you’re missing something, go ask the people at the reception desk.
11. You Did It!
You did it! Now you can use any sento or onsen bath without any confusion. Congratulations! Enjoy the rest of your trip!