For many visitors to Japan, both Westerners and Asians alike, the onsen is a somewhat unfamiliar territory that many people opt to overlook. The combination of the bath etiquette, the fact that nudity (sometimes with the opposite sex) is involved, and even things like the water being hotter than most Jacuzzis make it easy for first timers to justify skipping an onsen experience. A shame, since bathing in an onsen or hot spring is healthful, rejuvinating, and leaves one refreshed, relaxed, and clean. Onsen waters have healing qualities that range from skin conditions to cancer, and most visitors will discover that a dip in an onsen is a highlight of their visit to Japan. Here are some key tips for making your first bath a rewarding one:
One option is to stay at an inn that has a "kashikiriburo," or private, reservable bath. With a lock on the door, nobody will see that you have a tattoo and thus no-one will care. "Kazokuburo" are for families and are another option -- but again, you'll be bathing alone.
If you have tattoos and bathed in a tattoo-friendly onsen, please write and let me know so I can send others there. But as of now, I know of not a single place where tattooed bathers are welcome.