Sublime Soaks from Aso to Zaou
Independent onsen reviews, hot spring recommendations, Japanese onsen photos, guided onsen spa tours.

          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:

Taking a Japanese Bath

Wash First... Entering the Bath...



Are tattoos allowed?
This is one of my most frequently asked questions and the answer is essentially no. "But it's just a tiny one!" Still no. Tattoos are uncommon in Japan and tattoos often (on Japanese people) indicate yakusa or gangster ties and are not at all seen as cool. While this is not always the case these days and rarely the case with foreign visitors, it is still very possible that you may be refused entry if you have "sleeves" or large, very visible tattoos. Small tattoos may be possible to cover up with a waterproof bandage. Please be respectful of whatever the establishment requests.

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.

I'm embarrassed about being naked. Can I wear a swimsuit in the bath?
In a word: No. With rare exceptions, bringing any cloth, even your small hand towel, into the water is seen as dirtying the bath. But don't let that scare you away from enjoying one of Japan's nicest experiences. First, no matter what your size or shape, life is too short to be ashamed of your body. Nudity is natural and nobody cares what you look like. Two, once you're in the water there's very little to see anyway. Three, unless you're specifically looking for a shared-gender bath (konyoku bath), you'll only be seen by other members of the same sex, much like a locker room at school or going to the local gym. Four, this is one great time to adopt the motto "When in Rome, do like the Romans do." There's nothing to be worried about!
Where's a hotel with an onsen in the room?
A few of the ultra luxury hotels (think hundreds or thousands of dollars a night!) offer in-room onsen baths, but they're few and far between and too expensive for most normal travelers. However, many Japanese style inns offer a reservation-only, family-style bath (called "kashikiri-buro") where you can schedule a visit in advance when you check in, then lock the door during the time you're there. It's the best of both worlds: you get the privacy of an in-room bath, at a very reasonable price.
When's your next tour? offers two group tours each year, in the spring and fall. Check out our Tours page for details!
I found a great onsen but it's not listed!!
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Disclaimer: All of the info contained in this site is to be used at your own risk, with no implied or express or other such guarantee as to accuracy or safety. Visiting onsen can be dangerous, especially for those with high blood pressure, the intoxicated, or those with other health conditions. Under no circumstances will be held liable for any injury or damage that may occur from use of this information. This site includes user-submitted content (images, text, or both) and includes reviews of onsen establishments, as well as nudity. We are not liable for any damages, real or percieved, that may come from our use of said images or any accompanying text.