Soak in the Wisdom of Japanese Onsen

Onsen refers to hot springs in Japan, although it usually describes the bathing facilities of hot spring resorts. After a rigorous and hectic week (day? hour?), there is no better way to kick back and relax than a soak in a natural hot spring. It is a must-try aspect of Japanese culture if you visit Japan.

Kurokawa Onsen, Kyushu | David McKelvey

Japan consists of almost 7,000 islands. Over 70% of the country is made up of mountains and there are over 200 volcanoes in the Japanese jurisdiction. As a volcanically active nation, Japan has literally thousands of hot spring resorts scattered all over.

An onsen can be either an outdoor onsen (roten-buro or noten-buro) or an indoor bath. These can be a public municipal facility or a private onsen (uchiyu) run as a ryokan, hotel, or a B&B (minshuku). Bathing in an onsen is a unique Japanese bonding experience that breaks down barriers while getting to know people in a relaxed atmosphere. This is known as hadaka no tsukiai, or naked communion. After all, every single human being is naked under those clothes, right?

Kawaguchiko Onsen | Melanie-m

Onsen were traditionally built outdoors, though as of late, more indoor onsen are being built at newer establishments. The naturally, geothermally heated spring water is said to have healing powers because of its mineral content. Most onsen state what type of mineral content the water in their establishment is rich in, such as sulphur onsen (iō-sen) , sodium chloride onsen (natoriumu-sen), hydrogen carbonate onsen (tansan-sen),  or iron onsen (tetsu-sen).  Many Japanese believe that hot spring waters heal body aches and pains as well as some health disorders including diabetes, menstrual cramps, and constipation.

Private onsen. | charles chan

Another tradition involved men and women bathing together, but since Japan opened its doors to the West during the Meiji era, men and women have had separate baths. There are some onsen (konyoku) that provide designated hours for mixed baths or women-only, and children of either sex can bathe in women-only or men-only onsen.