If there is one thing I try to do in each country I visit it’s get naked in a public setting (that and eat at a McDonald’s).
In Japan this task can be accomplished with relative ease (and without pesky legal fallout). Thanks to the country’s geological makeup (a chain of volcanic islands), naturally occurring hot springs (or onsens (温泉) to the Japanese) provide a relaxing space for people to get naked and bathe together. Ironically these same onsens are what gave rise to Godzilla – fun fact.
Onsens come in a variety of flavors, and depending on the members of your party, your level of comfort seeing naked people, your level of comfort being seen naked by people, and the weather. You have the choice between indoors or outdoors, and mixed or segregated (sexes).
I would suggest an outdoors onsen as the indoor variety is reminiscent of a gym locker room (and I am permanently scarred from the things I have seen in these places). However, make sure you know what the deal is at your particular onsen prior to getting into your birthday suit and strutting about the grounds.
How To Not Embarrass Yourself
The following guidelines will help you avoid embarrassing yourself whilst enjoying an onsen in Japan.
- Remember that you are in Japan, and removing your shoes will likely be required prior to entering the dressing room, bathroom, or even the office.
- You are not permitted to wear swimwear in most onsens. You will be getting naked, and will have only a towel to hide your shame from hungry onlookers.
- You may bring your own towel or rent one (for a modest fee) at the onsen (note that the towels are small (hand towel size), so leave your Finding Nemo beach towel at home)
- Be wary of any tattoos that you have. In Japan, tattoos are associated with the Yakuza, and you may be denied entry or asked to leave should you reveal your body’s sinister markings.
- Shower before getting into the onsen, and make sure to clean yourself well.
- Cover yourself with your towel as you walk about. The Japanese do this, so I figure that it is the polite thing to do.
- Many people fold their towels and wear them atop their heads. Do this if you want to look silly for wearing a towel on your head, but cool for knowing what you are doing.
Onsens come highly recommended by the locals, and for good reason. Whether you need to relax after a day of climbing volcanoes, clear your mind before a night of karaoke, or just want to creep on some naked Japanese people, there is no better way to do it than with a scalding hot onsen (yes, they are incredibly hot).
Be sure to drink plenty of water!