Onsen - Japanese Hot Springs

There may be an Onsen at the ski area you use or at the hotel you stay at. You will find the Onsen is a wonderful way to relax after a fun day out on the snow covered mountains of Japan.

You may find that the Onsen provides both an inside and outside pool. The pool(s) may be built of natural stone or could be constructed to appear as a small swimming pool. Using an Onsen is a part of the Japanese culture that the westerner may want to experience, but there is some etiquette that should be followed in the process.

There will be a small fee to enter the Onsen and usually some soap and towels may be purchased if you don’t have your own. Women and Men will usually have separate bathing areas and pools. In some Onsens a very special outside hot spring area is alternated for use by Men or Women, depending on the time of day. There may be more standard hot springs available during the off hours if a special Onsen exists. Locate an empty locker in the locker room and put your clothes inside.

Head out of the locker room and take a quick shower in the tiled bathing area. The shower is just a primer for a major washing that follows. You can find a wash basin and small stool provided, that you take to the hot and cold water spigots and mini showers that line the wall of the washing room. Using your wash basin, wash cloth, and soap, thoroughly lather every square inch of your body. The process of washing yourself is an important custom and may take up to a half hour for some people to complete. After washing yourself, rinse all of the soap off your body.

Slowly step down into one of the hot pools of water of the Japanese bath and prepare to steep. If you are not used to hot water you may be surprised that the temperature is more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees centigrade). There may be bubbling water from a Jacuzzi stream that serves to further relax you. In some resorts you may be able to enjoy a bottle of fine sake (Japanese rice wine) while relaxing in the bath.

At some Onsens there will be a cold bath for you to take a plunge into after soaking in the hot bath. This will provide a giant shock to your senses and will refresh your sense of vitality. If a cold bath is not available a freezing cold shower will work just as well. Sometimes standing outside, naked and watching the snowfall is a very pleasant experience as well. After your sensory overload in the cold you can slip back into the hot bath. Repeat this process as often as you may enjoy it. You will find the Onsen is a wonderful way to relax after a fun day out on the snow covered mountains of Japan.


Snow Sports Japan by: W. Dire Wolff