This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Japanese Hot Springs Etiquette 101

For about 10 days now I have been staying at my mother-in-law's house. The home was built just after WWII and is considered kind of old for Japan. It is traditional style. There are sliding doors, tatami mat floors, a landscaped garden, and it is very difficult to maintain. We sit on the floor to eat, sleep on a thin futon mattress on the floor and shower....

Well, actually there is no shower. For some reason my mother-in-law does not want to fix it. This means that when we want to bathe we take a short walk to the local onsen (hot spring). My wife, Mika, like almost all Japanese people, is crazy for hot springs. I don't know how many trips we made in Colorado looking for hot, bubbling mineral water coming up from the ground. I think soaking is okay and can be very relaxing, but I do miss my 3 minute shower.

And unlike the privacy of your bathroom, when you are entering an area with many naked Japanese strangers there is always proper etiquette to follow:
  1. 1. Wash your body clean before entering the tub (see above photo)
    2. No jumping in
    3. Don't put your towel in the tub
    4. Dry off completely before reentering the changing area

The Unwritten Rules:
1. Use your towel to cover your privates while walking around from tub to tub (see #3 above).
2. No talking. There aren't sports, politics or benign conversation about the weather. Everyone is very silent.
3. No Tattoos. Japanese still associate ink body art with Yakuza (Japanese mafia). We have a Japanese friend in Denver who has a small fashion tattoo on her back. She went to her hometown onsen in Japan, and they told her that she had to leave. She returned the next day with a bandage covering the offending tattoo.
4. No peeing in the onsen.


  1. Send pictures of Mika's mother's house. It is difficult to get a grasp of what the bath house looks like, for those that have not been to Japan. Can you take a cleaner( no pun intended) snapshot?

  2. Good idea. I will add a photo from Mika's mom's house tomorrow. The bath house was difficult. I had about 30 sec. between when they let me in and before naked men started coming in, and the lens kept fogging up. In the post there is a link for the "local onsen". It is in japanese, but if you scroll down you'll see some photos.