30 useful tips for travel in Japan
- Correct Manners for Staying at a Japanese Inn and Taking a Hot Spring Bath
- Staying at a Japanese inn, known as ‘ryokan’, and soaking in a natural hot spring bath, or ‘onsen’, is a uniquely Japanese experience because the ambience, the service, and the food are second to none. When you enter a ryokan, you enter into a different world of tranquility and relaxation and the hectic noisy outside world is left behind.
Because of Japan’s location on the Pacific Rim of Fire, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are thousands of natural hot spring bathing areas throughout Japan. Some very famous towns such as Kusatsu and Beppu have been built around onsen and have hundreds of ryokan for bathers to stay overnight. The ryokan in these onsen towns are characterized by their distinctive architecture, scenic views, and beautiful gardens.
- Getting Settled and Dinner
- Upon arriving at a ryokan, you must first leave your shoes at the entrance and use slippers (except on tatami, where slippers must be removed). Before being shown your room you are likely to be served some green tea and Japanese sweets while the kimono-clad Okami-san (room guide) explains the facilities and dining options. Dinner can be served in your room or in a large dining hall. Usually you can choose the time you want to eat and you can expect an elaborate and delicious meal with many courses using local and seasonal ingredients.
- Bathing and Sleeping
- Men and women use separate baths, and some could be outside on the facility’s grounds. The entrances to the baths will usually have noren (entryway curtains) with the Japanese characters for "man" 男 , and "woman" 女 printed on them. Many of the fancier ryokan have bathtubs in the bedrooms so you can enjoy a private onsen in your room.
In your tatami bedroom you will find a set of Japanese clothes that you should wear throughout your stay. Wear the cotton yukata on top of your normal underwear, and if you’re feeling cold, there will be a thicker jacket that you can wear on top. You will be sleeping in the yukata on the futon on the tatami floor. The futon will be made up for you while you are out of the room and put away in the morning while you're having breakfast.
Japanese bathing etiquette is strict: you must be naked, and you must wash yourself thoroughly before soaking in the baths. The ryokan will provide a bath towel to dry yourself with after the bath and a small towel to use in the bathing area to wash yourself and as a modesty cover. Undress in the changing room and leave your clothes in one of the baskets or a locker, then take your little towel with you into the main bath room. Grab a stool in front of a water spigot/hand shower and clean yourself. Soaps and shampoos are usually plentiful. After you are clean, ease into the hot bath; usually feet first, working your way in slowly. Be careful not to submerge your small towel in the bath. Many people put it on top of their heads, or leave it off to the side somewhere.
Beware some baths can be very hot and it’s recommend not to spend too long soaking, especially for people with high blood pressure. Other than that, just relax and enjoy!