The best way to rest those tired legs - rules and etiquettes for onsen in Japan

Updated: Jan 29

There is nothing better after a long day on the hill than going to the onsen and soaking the sore muscles. Some of the local onsen in and around Niseko are particularly beautiful, some even having a view of Mt. Yotei from their outdoor pools. Each onsen will have natural properties from the water of the thermal springs. It might smell a big eggy, but it’s all good for the skin and the soul.



Etiquette is big in Japan. Onsen etiquette is no exception. As there are some rules you have to follow when going to an onsen we thought we would make it easier and let you know before you go. The rules may be different depending on the onsen, especially if you are lucky enough to have one in your hotel or accommodation, but they rarely differ much.


First of all you will need to pay to enter, this is usually around ¥500, but you can get often get 10 entry tickets for a lower price in most hotels if purchased at the same time. These can be shared amongst a group so always worth it if you are with friends or family. You will need to bring your own large towel and ‘modesty towel’ which is a smaller flannel or cloth.


Once you have paid, it is onsen etiquette to remove your shoes and put on slippers just by the entrance to the changing rooms. The changing rooms will have baskets or lockers for your possessions, a toilet and hopefully a water fountain. You have to remove all clothing and enter the onsen with just your ‘modesty towel’ and go to the shower sections which will have soap and shampoo (usually good quality too). They usually have a small seat so you can sit and wash your body before entering the water. Make sure you clean properly and wash the area before you leave it so it is clean for the next person. Now it is time to relax.



Onsen usually have an indoor and outdoor pool for you to switch between and the larger ones will have saunas, steam rooms and cold plunges. Again, most onsen don’t allow drinking inside but if you would like to have a cold beer while you are soaking then please ask and don’t assume you can.


Make sure you drink lots of water whilst you are in there - there will usually be a drinking water tank in the changing room, or take in your own reusable water bottle.


As a foreigner (or “gaijin”, which translates quite literally as “alien”), make sure you abide by onsen etiquette, to avoid too much attention...


Girls (and guys sporting a mane) will need to have their hair tied up.


Generally be quiet and respectful of others in there.


Always shower after you go in the sauna - no one wants your sweaty body getting straight back in the communal baths.


You’ll see lots of Japanese people with their modesty towel folded neatly and placed gently on top of their head. This will help stop your hair from freezing outside). You can use it to cover your modesty whilst walking between pools, but you must not use it to cover yourself up when actually in the water - you may be reprimanded by a local.




No mobile phones, bikinis, underwear, shaving, or doing your laundry in the onsen.


There is still a taboo of no tattoos in the onsen. This originated from when tattoos were once illegal in Japan. So the only people who had tattoos were outside of the law, mostly the Yakuza. They are a lot more commonly accepted now in the resort, but it is good onsen etiquette to ask before you go stripping off. It’s especially important to do your research if you’re heading to an onsen away from the touristy parts of Japan.


Once you are done hopping between hot pool plunge pool and sauna, you can rinse off, change and head to the tatami room to relax and stretch or even jump in a funky massage chair (but beware some of the foot massagers can get a bit savage). Enjoy!




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