One of my favorite Japan-exclusive activities is going to the onsen with friends. Onsens are public baths, a popular leisure activity in Japan, and are a place to socialize, relax, and get some peace and quiet away from the busy and work-centric stresses and pressures from society.
Many of my western friends are initially off put by the idea of being naked in front of strangers, but there is a certain calmness and comfort in it. The onsen provides an atmosphere of no judgement or comparison, and we can return to the basics of human existence.
- No technology: There are no phones, laptops, tablets, or other devices in the onsen. While onsens weren’t specially designed to be technology-free detox zones, for the modern person they provide a haven from the distractions of technology and a place for meditative quiet or comfort among friends. Instead of preoccupying our minds with an activity, we are forced to simply relax in a bath, and pass the time alone with our thoughts or by conversing with friends. There is no room for the outside world in this space.
- No judgement: There is also something oddly refreshing about being naked with complete strangers. While it may seem unnerving and make people self-conscious at first, first-time onsen goers will soon realize that no one cares what your body may look like. No makeup, no clothes, and no one to impress. Old people, young children, parents, and teenagers– with so many different bodies and people at different stages in their lives, you soon realize that no one is comparing themselves to you, and you have no reason to compare yourselves to them. It’s kind of weird, but it’s a precious atmosphere.
I recently when to Spa LaQua, nearby Tokyo Dome City, with my friends. An incredibly spacious, clean, and comfortable onsen, for only about $30. I would definitely go again.
The onsen spa has a natural hot spring, pulling water from 1.7km underneath the surface into a Japanese cypress wooden bathtub. The bath not only smells incredibly nice, but the carbonation and natural minerals in the water are known for having metabolism-boosting health benefits. Several baths are located outdoors, so you can breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the sunshine on days with nice weather. My friends and I personally spent about half an hour rotating the baths, trying out the different waters, temperatures, and tubs.
They also have an indoor oxygen spring, which is full of natural minerals that benefit the skin and can help alleviate problems such as dryness or eczema. In addition to the onsens, the spa has saunas as well, and a shower and cold bath onsen located right outside of it, so after you warm up you can rinse yourself of sweat and refresh yourself in the cool water.
Another aspect that makes this spa really stand out is the lounge area outside of the onsens. The lounges are equipped with sofa chairs that lie down like beds, and each is equipped with a reading light, outlet, and tablet for if you want to watch videos or movies. You can also order food and drinks from this tablet, where a waiter or waitress will come and bring you your order. You can see many people napping, reading books, or watching movies on these chairs. There is also a female-only lounge, for women who may feel more comfortable in a space where there’s only women. If you would prefer to enjoy a proper meal, the spa also has a variety of cafes and restaurants located in the building.
I’m so glad I went to Spa LaQua and definitely want to go again! I recommend it for people visiting or living in Japan, but there are a few rules and customs about going to onsen that may be useful to know before visiting:
Etiquette To Know Before Going:
- No tattoos! Japan has a history of tattoos being associated with yakuza/mafia culture, so it is customary for onsens to prohibit those with tattoos to enter. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but I hope visitors will respect this rule as part of the culture. If you have a small or medium-sized tattoo, you can enter the onsen if you cover it with a bandage.
- Be quiet in the facility. While chatting with friends is welcomed, please don’t run, yell, scream, or talk loudly. It’s a common space for relaxing, so you need to be mindful of others using the facility.
- Don’t dip towels or your hair in the water. If you have long hair, tie it up! This is to be respectful to other guests using the baths
- Can’t enter onsens wearing clothes or swimwear.
- No photographs, no phone calls
- No smoking
- No food in bathing area
Onsens are a great way to relax, maybe get some time from your phone and technology, and take care of your body. Go with friends for a fun bonding experience, or go alone to clear your mind of stresses or societal pressures. It’s a great space where the outside world can just pause for a moment, and really relax your body and mind.
If you have any questions, comments, concerns, advice, or thoughts– email me at email@example.com! I respond to every email I get!