There are thousands of hot springs in Japan because the country is made up of a group of volcanic islands. In fact, 30 minutes’ drive from my house is Arima Onsen, the oldest hot spring spot in Japan. There is always the smell of sulfur. Almost Japanese people, including me, love Onsen, which means hot springs in Japanese language. It is very popular among people of all ages. Onsen spots become fully booked during tourist seasons.
Types of Onsen include a public bath and a Japanese style inn, Ryokan. Generally speaking, Onsen spots are made of many Ryokans. In Rokan, there are entrances to the bath for men and women. The bath usually have some tubs for 10 to 20 people. You may notice several rules when you take Japanese bath. Some Ryokan display instructions in English or other language.
First, you have to take all your clothes off and become naked. It would be a bad manner in Japan if you wear a swimsuit because it’s embarrassing. Second, you must rinse yourself first before going into the tub. Because all customers soak in the same tub of water. So, it is important to keep the water in the tub clean for the others. In addition, you may not wash yourself in the tub. There is a place to wash your body next to the tub. You should not put your washcloth in the tub water (of cause, no washing!). This is a very strict rule even for Japanese.
Finally, swimming is out of the question even if the bathtub is so large. Children sometimes do it, though. But you may sing a song and chat with other customers.
It is very refreshing to relax in huge bath. Open-air baths with beautiful views is nice. Eating delicious meals and playing table tennis in yukata, a simple kind of kimono which is provided by Ryokan, are also part of the Onsen experience. Some luxury Ryokan have Western-style bathtubs in their guest rooms, so you can enjoy Onsen without worrying about the eyes of others.
Besides the Ryokan, you can take a public bath for a reasonable price. Because there is at least one public bath each Onsen spot. Usually, public baths are also separated by gender. However, there are mixed baths in local Onsen spots. Men and women can enter the same large bathtub. In this case, you are allowed to wear a swimsuit. (Noting that there are some arguments among Japanese on whether you should wear a swimsuit in Onsen.)
Recently, many foreign customers have come to Onsen, but there is one problem. Thare are lots of people with tattoos. The Japanese people are afraid of those who have tattoos because tattooing is the proof of yakuza, Japanese mafia. No matter how small it is, we don’t consider it fashionable. Therefore, be careful as some Onsen refuse tattooed people for the safety of their customers. If you have only a small one, and if you are lucky, you might be asked to cover it.