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    16 Things You Should Know Before Visiting An Onsen In Japan

    It's WAY more complicated than you think.

    Japanese hot springs — or onsens — are public baths that are fed from geothermally heated water.

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    Emperors used to travel to soak in the mineral-rich water, and Buddhist monks touted its health benefits. There are more than 3,000 onsens across Japan, and many Japanese still bathe in them regularly. They’re an important part of the culture — but like most things in Japan, they have their own set of rules. So before you jump in and embarrass yourself, take a moment to read these tips.

    1. For starters, don’t think of them as hot tubs; think of them as public baths.

    2. Most of the time, onsens are separated by gender.

    3. You’ll need to bring your own bathing gear — toiletries, a hair tie (if you have long hair), a washcloth, and a towel.

    4. Like many places in Japan, you’ll need to take off your shoes before you enter.

    5. Then, strip down, put your clothes in the cubby, and head into the bathing room.

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    Swimsuits are not allowed. It’s naked or nothing. Bring along your toiletries and towels.

    6. Say hello when you enter.

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    A simple “konnichiwa” and polite nod goes a long way. Some of these pools are tiny, so you may be in close quarters.

    7. Bathe first, soak second.

    8. Start by getting yourself wet.

    9. Soap up and keep in mind that the bar for what constitutes “clean” is high.

    10. Then rinse off.

    11. Finally, it’s time to soak. But keep in mind the water can be really, really hot.

    12. You can get out and cool off and plunge in as many times as you want.

    13. You can bring your washcloth with you to the tub, but it can’t go in the water.

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    You’re going to have to own your nakedness, but if you want something to cover yourself with when you inevitably need a break from the scalding water, you can get creative with your washcloth. Just make sure you don’t dip it in the water. Put it on the side of the tub, or take a cue from the locals and fold it into a square and set it on your head while you soak.

    14. Tattoos are forbidden.

    15. Remember, this isn’t a ski lodge hot tub, this is a cultural tradition and a place for reflection.

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    In other words, please be quiet and respectful.

    16. And if all else fails, follow the pros.

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    Every onsen has its regulars — people who come to bathe a few times a week. Find someone who seems to know what they’re doing and do what they do.

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