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Ultimate Guide to Japanese Private Onsen

By Emily Talbot | December 24, 2021

Want to unwind in some of Japan’s natural hot springs, but don’t feel comfortable bathing with others or worry your tattoo might prevent you from getting in? Perhaps you simply want some quality time to relax with your family, friends, partner, or loved ones. 

Whatever your motivation, if you’re after an authentic Japanese bathing experience away from the crowd, we recommend Japanese private onsen (温泉). Peaceful and serene, they provide the perfect atmosphere for a romantic getaway, family bonding, or just a hard-earned break.

Unsure where to find private onsen or how to navigate onsen etiquette? I’ll recommend some top private onsen places to help you find a fit for your budget and timeframe. So you can make the most of your Japanese private onsen retreat, I’ll share some top tips on how to use onsen respectfully and what to expect at an onsen ryokan (Japanese hot spring inn)!

If you are new to Japan, check out our comprehensive guides on our Japan Switch Blog to learn more about Japanese culture and the Japanese language.

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    What exactly is Onsen and how is it different from Sentō?

    japanese private onsen

    Onsen - literally on (hot) and sen (springs), have long been a source of healing for Japanese people. Onsen remain integral to Japanese culture, and there are a whopping 3,000 onsen facilities in Japan which attract tens of thousands of visitors every year.

    What do we mean when we say onsen? Onsen is used to refer to the hot springs themselves, as well as the bathing facilities surrounding them. 

    In spite of the growing popularity of onsen facilities, onsen have been around for centuries. There are century-old accounts of Japanese women and men sharing baths to absorb the water’s healing properties. Onsen water is known to revitalise skin, increase blood flow, and loosen tense muscles. We could all use a bit of that these days!

    Onsen

    Sentō

    Natural or man-made?

    Natural

    Man-made

    Onsen (温泉) are natural pools filled with volcanic spring water. The water, known for its milky appearance and sulphuric smell, is very good for the skin. Interestingly, not all natural springs are considered onsen. “Onsen laws” stipulate that the water has to be at least 25 degrees, or fulfil at least one of 19 criteria relating to the concentration of the water’s mineral content.

    Sentō (銭湯) on the other hand, are man-made pools of heated tap water. Some sentō facilities add minerals and infusions to the water for increased health benefits, but they are certainly not known for that. 

    Where are they usually located?

    Near volcanic mountains

    Town centres

    Because they are heated by volcanoes, onsen are mostly located in and around volcanic areas. Many sit at quite an altitude that provides bathers with a beautiful view of the outstretched landscape, or cityscape, below.

    Sentō are mostly located near town centres, typically cheaper, and are more popular among local people.

    What are they primarily for?

    Relaxation

    Hygiene & cleanliness

    Japan’s oldest chronicle- the kogiji- suggests that feudal lords had their favourite soaking spots, where they often let samurai (warriors) bathe after battles. Bathing in onsen was thought to heal people’s bodies and offer numerous health benefits. 

    Sentō, like other public baths, serve the much more simple purpose of keeping people clean.

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    Why should I use a Japanese private onsen instead of a public onsen?

    You’re with a close companion

    Most onsen today are segregated by gender, meaning couples cannot bathe together. Japanese private onsen offers you and your loved one a highly luxurious and romantic bathing experience, often complete with spectacular views.

    Ryokan (Japanese hot spring inns) usually offer two options for private bathing: guest rooms with private onsen attached, and/or their chartered kashikiri (貸切風呂) baths, where couples can enjoy up to two hours of private bathing.  

    Rotenburo (open-air onsen) are particularly popular among honeymooners and young lovers seeking romantic views. A rotenburo is usually attached to a beautifully furnished bedroom and hidden from the public eye. With this total privacy, you can do whatever, whenever you please, all while gazing out at some of Japan’s finest nature.

    Looking for a lover to share your next onsen get-away with? Read the Ultimate Guide to Japanese Dating Apps and Ultimate Guide to (dating) Japanese Men

    You’re with family

    Family travel can be stressful at the best of times, whether you're a party of three, five or seven. Booking a Japanese private onsen is the best way to truly relax, as you and your family can bathe together regardless of sex in a safe and secure space. Having the peace of mind that comes with this will allow you to fully enjoy the surroundings and cultural experience. Should you prefer to soak separately, you can do so, provided that your children are above seven years old.

    Onsen ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels) generally offer two types of family onsen- chartered onsens outside guest rooms, and Japanese private onsen in guest rooms. Most ryokan will have either or both options available, with pools inside and/or outside. A kazokuburo (家族風呂) consists of multiple private rooms, with a bath and changing area. These are great for families with young kids. 

    What about accommodation? Onsen facilities also have spacious rooms that can comfortably sleep up to seven people. You probably aren’t used to sleeping in the same room- it is an experience you can only find in Japan! Always make sure to check room capacity with your ryokan, as some ryokan only offer private rooms and onsens for couples. In general, children over 12 are charged adult rates, while infants and children between 6 and 11 are charged reduced rates.

    What about food? Ryokan staff understand that juggling children at mealtimes can be tricky. That’s why some give you the option to dine inside your heya-shoku (guest room) instead of at the restaurant. Your children will likely be sleepy around dinnertime, so dining in your room allows you to eat at your own pace and send your children to bed hassle-free.

    foreigner with tattoos in private onsen in japan

    You’ve got tattoos

    Tattoos- both big and small- are taboo in Japan due to their association with yakuza (Japanese gangsters) and criminals. Because of this, many traditional ryokan enforce a blanket no-tattoo policy for their public onsen. There are some exceptions, of course, but the number of places liberalizing their rules to accommodate tourists is not high. 

    Be sure to check your ryokan's policy beforehand to avoid any misunderstandings upon your arrival. Some places will accept smaller, covered tattoos. In the case the ryokan do not provide covers, you may be expected to bring your own. Amazon sell tattoo patches for cheap. 

    If you’ve got a tattoo, I would recommend booking to visit an onsen facility with a kashikiri (貸し切り), a reservable Japanese private onsen. No one will be able to see that you have a tattoo behind the locked door.

    You’re shy

    All visitors are expected to bathe naked in both the standard single-sex baths and konyoku (shared-gender baths). Despite the fact that nudity is considered beautiful and natural in Japan, stripping off can be daunting for even the best of us. 

    Since it is forbidden to bring anything other than your naked body into an onsen, those on the shier side are best to choose a private onsen for the most comfortable experience. Japanese private onsen give you the privacy to totally unwind and embrace your nakedness away from the crowd. 

    How can I enjoy Japanese private onsen?

    First things first. How much time and money are you willing to spend? Once that’s decided, narrowing down your options will become a bit easier. 

    Stay a few nights at an onsen ryokan with Japanese private onsen

    If you have the luxury of time, why not treat yourself to a night or two at a remote ryokan? In case it was not clear, not all ryokan have onsen. Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns, while onsen ryokan, as the term suggests, are inns with onsen. They have their own onsen baths and usually provide breakfast and dinner for staying guests. 

    Ryokan tend to be located in regional areas near volcanic activity, surrounded by mountains, lakes, and other beautiful Japanese scenery. Often catering only for a limited number of staying guests, they offer a quiet and private feel. The atmosphere is deeply rejuvenating and undoubtedly romantic.

    Take a day trip to a ryokan with Japanese private onsen

    When you only have a day and under ¥5,000 to spend on an authentic Japanese bathing experience, a day trip (日帰り, higaeri) fits the bill! It’s important to note that not all ryokan accept day-trippers, so be sure to check their website carefully beforehand.

    Ryokan that do accept daytrippers tend to offer similar facilities and services to overnight guests- such as massages and open pool access. Hotels such as Amami Onsen Nanten-en do special day trip deals where guests can use a room and the attached Japanese private onsen for 7 hours! Extra services such as massages and spa treatments usually cost extra for daytrippers and stayers alike, although pricing packages differ between ryokan.

    Higaeri bathing hours tend to be restricted, and in some places, some onsen are reserved for overnight guests. For food, onsen ryokan may also not offer daytrippers restaurant meals, so be sure to check your price package and whether the ryokan’s food facilities are open to all visitors.

    Are you Tokyo-based and wanting to explore? Read our Ultimate Guide to Planning a Day Trip from Tokyo. 

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    What exactly can I expect to find at an onsen ryokan?

    An onsen ryokan is, you guessed it, a ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) with an onsen (hot spring inn). As well as indoor and outdoor pools, virtually all ryokan have washitsu (traditional Japanese rooms) for overnight guests and dining rooms that serve them breakfast and dinner.

    In some ryokan, there are lounge areas, massage parlours, saunas, souvenir shops,  scenic gardens and even hair salons.

    What do Japanese private onsen look like? 

    Private onsen come in different sizes. The smallest pools, suitable for one person, are  slightly wider, and larger than a bathtub. Couples onsen are about three times the size of a standard bathtub, with the largest family onsen comfortably fitting up to seven people. Unsure what type of Japanese private onsen suits your needs? This article summarises their differences. 

    There are in-room and out-of-room private onsen. In-room private onsen are either located indoors or on a balcony connected to the guest room. Some ryokans let you choose your onsen theme! For example, Kinugawa Spa Nanaeyae lets you choose between a white-themed space surrounded by sunlit foliage, or a darker space with a Canyon feel! 

    Bathing areas are skillfully designed to blend in with the surrounding natural features using materials such as bamboo, china and porcelain. In such an immersive and elegant space, it’s hard not to feel blissfully peaceful.

    onsen ryokan japanese room

    What is in a typical onsen ryokan room? 

    It depends. Guests can choose between a relatively nondescript Western-style bedroom with mattresses and bedsheets, or the quintessential Japanese-style room (和室, washitsu). 

    A traditional feature of the Japanese ryokan, washitsu showcase some of Japan’s finest traditional architecture in all its aesthetically pleasing elegance and simplicity. The rooms’ open, wooden architectural style provides lots of natural light and ventilation, evoking a sense of harmony between people and nature. 

    Washitsu are lined with tatami (bamboo mat flooring) which smells and feels somewhat like grass. When dinnertime rolls around, staff prepare the bedding by placing the Japanese futon (thin floor mattress and sheet) atop the tatami to make an on-the-floor bed. In your washitsu, you might also find low-lying tables, teapots, teacups and cushions for sitting on the floor. You might also see sliding doors of shoji (Japanese paper) and corner areas with ikebana flower arrangements and tokonoma (hanging scrolls).

    Do Japanese private onsen guests get their own bathrooms? 

    Most private guest rooms have an ensuite bathroom equipped with a washing area and a yukata (Japanese bathrobes) for wearing in and around the resort area. Basic amenities such as shampoo, body lotion, a hairdryer, toothbrushes and towels are provided. Some may also provide bathroom slippers and additional amenities.

    If you are day-tripping, some ryokan may require you to rent certain amenities for an extra charge. 

    What food and drink will I be served at an onsen ryokan?

    Arguably the highlight of spending the night at an onsen ryokan (hot spring inn) is the Japanese food. You can usually confirm your desired meal plan and dinner time at check-in. For an additional fee, you may be able to request to eat in a private room rather than the main restaurant.

    Breakfasts and dinners feature an array of aesthetic dishes created using high quality and fresh ingredients. There’s something for everyone- seafood, meat, vegetables, and fruits. Higher-end ryokan provides kaiseki- multi-course Japanese meals, teppanyaki (grilled foods). See the kind of delicious Japanese cuisine you could be served in this video!

    Because Japanese cuisine utilises seasonal ingredients, menus are frequently changing. Menus usually feature one or two Western-style meals for the less adventurous, but do try the Japanese cuisine- you won’t regret it! Overall, ryokan food is highly nutritious and locally sourced from organic farms, so you can try anything on offer without worrying about getting sick.

    If you’re lucky, the ryokan staff might also give you some local sweet treats to nibble at during your stay. Some even have sweets shops where you can purchase the ones you liked for your loved ones back home. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Sweets to see the kind of treats you might get!

    traditional japanese breakfast meal in onsen ryokan
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    What about massages and beauty treatments?

    Many ryokan provide special salon and “beautification” services for female guests, such as Geisha facials, massages and other skin treatments. Some ryokan also offer fish pedicures and have a sauna available for everyone to use. Check out your ryokan’s website or ask at reception to see exactly what they offer!

    Top 8 ryokan with Japanese private onsen, from cheapest to most expensive

    Ebisu no Yu, Beppu

    Location: Beppu, Oita Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: Day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Rooms with open-air onsen, chartered onsen outside guest rooms
    Facilities: Healing roams, bar, shop, restaurant, meeting facilities, spa, karaoke
    Average price: ¥15,000 for 2 adults, 1 night

    Beppu, one of the best towns to experience onsen, is home to ryokan Ebisu no Yu. Lying at the heart of Shuzenji / Nagaoka, it is ideally located for anyone eager to see the sites of Atami, a seaside town close by. As a daytripper or overnight guest, you can rent a private onsen room. The pools here are incredibly milky and sulphuric, and are thought to have skin-smoothing properties. When you’re done soaking, the ryokan has karaoke, a massage parlour, and a golf course.

    Biwako Hanakaido, Ōtsu 

    Location: Ōtsu, Shiga Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: Day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Guest rooms with open-air onsen
    Facilities: Souvenir shop, cafe, spa, restaurant, lounge, free shuttle
    Average price: ¥26,000 for 2 adults, 1 night

    Only a 20-minute train ride from Kyoto station and offering free pick-up, Biwako Ryokusuitei overlooks the spectacular freshwater Lake Biwa. After a delicious kaiseki dinner, delightful massage, and lengthy rest in the lounge, you can retire to your open-air onsen and let the lake’s light breeze send you into a state of total relaxation.

    japanese private onsen in shiga prefecture

    Kyoto Yunohana, Kameoka

    Location: Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: No day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Rooms with open-air and indoor onsen, chartered onsen outside guest rooms
    Facilities: Restaurant, lobby, spa
    Average price: ¥35,000 for 2 adults, 1 night. Chartered onsen: ¥2200/ 50 minutes

    Although it is only a 40-minute train or bus ride away from Kyoto, Yunohana ryokan is well hidden by thick forest on the Hokusetsu Mountains. One of the more flexible ryokan with several private onsen room options, Yunohana is a popular choice for families. Tattoo-wearers can also enjoy their public pools, provided they cover the ink with adhesive tape. On-the-day reservations are accepted where there are vacancies, and you can easily tailor your meal plan to suit your budget.

    Amami Onsen Nanten-en, Osaka

    Location: Kawachinagano, Osaka Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: Day-trippers allowed
    Onsen options: Rooms with open-air and indoor onsen. Chartered onsen outside guest rooms.
    Facilities: Restaurants, lounges, souvenir shop, vending machines
    Average price: ¥38,000 for 1 night, 2 people. ¥24,000 for daytripper deal, 2 people

    Amami Onsen Nanten-en is a beautifully designed building by Tatsuno Kingo, a renowned architect during the Meiji and Taisho Periods (1868-1926). Located 40 minutes from Osaka by train and a 2-minute walk from the station, the ryokan is the perfect destination for a day trip as well as an overnight stay. From your private onsen, you might be lucky enough to get views of the garden and river below.

    Yunoshimakan, Gero 

    Location: Gero, Gifu Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: No day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Rooms with open-air and indoor onsen, chartered onsen outside guest rooms.
    Facilities: Restaurant, lounge, free shuttle
    Average price: ¥40,000 for 2 adults, 1 night

    One of the three most famous onsen in Japan, this cosy, three-storied wooden ryokan sits nestled up high in the mountains. Open-air baths attached to washitsu boast a beautiful view of Gero Onsen’s townscape, as do other private baths which you can pay for by the hour. Wanting to dine privately? The ryokan staff will bring authentic kaiseki right to your room at the end of a relaxing day. There are 67 rooms and many private room options. 

    Bousui, Shizuoka

    Location: Kamo, Shizuoka
    Day-trip policy: No day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Chartered onsen outside guest rooms.
    Facilities: Restaurants, spas, lounge, free shuttle
    Average price: ¥55,703 for 2 adults, 1 night

    At Bousui, you can marvel at the spectacular ocean views from your private onsen one minute, and walk along Suruga Bay below the next. This 4-star ryokan sits on a low-lying building within walking distance from the sea. With its prime location, stunning furnishings, and in-room meal service, it is well worth its price tag.

    Getting there is easy with the ryokan’s free parking and free train station shuttle bus. Instead of in-room onsen, they offer the option to rent a private onsen area for up to 2 sessions per night stayed for up to 50 minutes with a remarkable outstretched sea view.

    expensive japanese private onsen in shizuoka

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    Kurashiki, Honmachi

    Location: Honmachi, Okayama Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: Day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Rooms with open-air and indoor onsen. Chartered onsen outside guest rooms.
    Facilities: Restaurant, private dining, lounge
    Average price: ¥74,000 for 2 adults, 1 night

    Enjoy the banks of the Nakabashi Bridge canal at Ryokan Kurashiki. As an overnight guest, you can choose from their standard, deluxe and luxury suites, all of which come with their own onsen. If you feel like using a large pool, you can. There is a large bath open to all accommodation guests, which you can book in advance by the hour if you’re just wanting to visit for the day.

    Nishimuraya Honkan, Hyogo

    Location: Kamo, Shizuoka
    Day-trip policy: No day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Rooms with open-air and indoor onsen, chartered onsen outside guest rooms.
    Facilities: In-room dining, lounge, garden, restaurant, shop
    Average price: ¥173,446 for 2 adults, 1 night

    This pricey, award-winning onsen ryokan located in rural Hyogo could not go without a mention. According to Lonely Planet, Nishimuraya Honkan is the best onsen ryokan in Japan! Despite the illusion of seclusion, it’s only 4 minutes away from Yosho Shrine and 12 minutes from the nearest train station. You’ll love its unparalleled hospitality, dining experience and Zen gardens.

    Best 5 ryokan near Tokyo with Japanese private onsen 

    Tokinoyu Setsugetsuka (2.5h from Tokyo)

    Location: Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: Day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Rooms with open-air and indoor onsen. Chartered onsen outside guest rooms.
    Facilities: Restaurants, souvenir shop, lounge, vending machines
    Average price: ¥14,000 for 1 night, 2 people. ¥24,000 for daytripper deal, 2 people

    Set in the heart of the hot spring resort Hakone, Tokinoyu Setsugetsuka offers a remote feel with the convenience of being close to Tokyo!  For a set price, you have a seven-hour window to soak in the wooden onsen on your room’s balcony or rent 40-minute slots in any public or private pool. For dinner, choose from one of two restaurants- Kacho or Fugetsu. Restaurant Kacho serves Japanese kaiseki multi-course meals consisting of locally acquired seafood, while Fugetsu offers sushi, tempura and wagyu beef shabu-shabu hot pot dishes.

    Shin Kaikatei Izumi (2.5h from Tokyo)

    Location: Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: Day-trippers allowed
    Private onsen: Most rooms have open-air onsen. Chartered onsen outside guest rooms
    Facilities: Bar, shop
    Price: ¥20,000 for 1 night, 2 people. ¥8,000 for daytripper deal, 2 people

    Shin Kaikatei Izumi is seated on the west side of Shizuoka’s Izu Peninsula, offering modern and traditional-style rooms with stunning views of Suruga Bay. There are 8 different room types to choose from, with all but the cheapest boasting their own open-air onsen. For an out-of-this-world dining experience, head to their restaurant. Their head chef has received several Michelin Stars! 

    Konansou (2.5h from Tokyo)

    Location: Minamitsuru, Yamanashi Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: No day-trippers 
    Private onsen: Rooms with open-air onsen, private chartered onsen outside guest rooms.
    Facilities: Souvenir shop, restaurant, lounge, vending and washing machines
    Average price: ¥27,000 for 1 night, 2 people

    A 10-minute walk from the nearest train station, Konansou sits near the shore of Lake Kawaguchi, offering beautiful views of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi. The ryokan offers beach access, as well as proximity to the town’s restaurants and gift shops. It has 51 guest rooms, of which some face the lake and some face Mount Fuji. As well as their large public baths, they also have a rooftop foot bath that gives you unparalleled views of the surroundings!

    Want to break out of the ryokan bubble? Check out the Oshino Hakkai area or the Arakura Fuji Sengen Jinja Shrine nearby.

    japanese private onsen in yamanashi

    Kukuna (2.5h from Tokyo)

    Location: Minamitsuru, Yamanashi Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: No day-trippers allowed
    Onsen: Rooms with open-air onsen. Private chartered onsen outside guest rooms
    Facilities: Restaurant, banquet rooms, gift shop, karaoke, meeting and games rooms
    Average price: ¥50,000 per night for 2 people

    Pick Kukuna to admire exquisite views of Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi from the comfort of your Japanese private onsen. In spring, sakura (cherry blossoms) beautify the view from the ryokan lounge and balconies. At the end of a long day of soaking, you can choose from a number of dining options, including teppanyaki and kaiseki, and try to beat your loved one at karaoke! 

    Tokinoniwa (3.5h from Tokyo)

    Location: Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma Prefecture
    Day-trip policy: Day-trippers allowed
    Onsen: All rooms have open-air onsen, chartered onsen outside guest rooms
    Facilities: Bar, shop, restaurant
    Price: ¥14,000 for 1 night, 2 people. ¥8,000 daytripper plan for 2 people

    With its tatami-matted floors and prime onsen town location, Tokinoniwa ryokan offers the quintessential onsen experience. Day-trippers can use a room with a private open-air onsen between 12 pm and 3 pm. There are also 3 kashikiri (rentable private onsen) that you can use at no extra cost. For overnight guests, most of the ryokan’s 64 guest rooms are washitsu (traditional Japanese-style rooms) equipped with their own open-air onsen baths. For food, they serve Japanese kaiseki-style meals and plenty of sake at their sake bar.

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    Important vocabulary for Japanese private onsen

    Japanese

    Romaji

    English

    温泉

    onsen

    natural hot spring

    旅館

    ryokan

    Japanese-style inn

    貸切風呂

    kashikiriburo

    private bath

    露天風呂

    rotenburo

    outdoor bath

    懐石

    kaiseki 

    Japanese multi-course dinner

    和室

    washitsu

    Japanese-style bedroom

    熱い

    atsui 

    hot

    ボディーソープ

    bodiisoopu

    body soap

    日帰り

    higaeri

    day trip

    タオル

    taoru

    towel

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    How to use Japanese private onsen like a pro in 8 steps

    1. Check your onsen ryokan’s policies

    Onsen bathing rules vary from ryokan to ryokan. No matter how much you already know about onsen, always check your ryokan's website or contact them via email or phone to resolve any questions before booking or even prior to arrival.

    Nervous about conversing in Japanese over the phone? This ultimate guide offers useful Japanese phrases to help you make a call with confidence.

    2. Book in advance

    Payment and reservation methods for private onsen also vary. I recommend all first-time onsen users book in advance to minimise the chances of being turned away due to unexpected capacity or policy issues. Bookings can usually be done on the ryokan website. 

    Some facilities accept on-the-day reservations and have small touchscreen monitors that let you select the onsen with the picture and price that appeals to you most. However, for the best experience, you want to walk into the ryokan relaxed, knowing all the details are taken care of.

    Looking to use a chartered onsen? These pay-per-minute baths usually have slots from a minimum of 45-50 minutes for a price of around ¥2000 - ¥4000.

    tourist booking reservation for private onsen

    3. Be prompt


    Lateness is considered rude in Japan. If you are delayed and cannot make your reservations in time, call your ryokan to notify them. Their contact information is usually included in the email confirming your reservation, and check-in for overnight stays is usually between 3 pm and 6 pm.

    If you’re staying the night, be sure to let your establishment know your movements so that they do not over or under order ingredients for meals. Be seated around five minutes before mealtime to indicate you are ready to be served. 

    4. Dress (and undress) appropriately


    So you’ve finally arrived at the ryokan, eager to get your onsen experience underway. Before going in, remove your shoes. It is customary for them to be taken off at the building’s entrance (玄関, genkan) and placed either on the floor, genkan shelves, or lockers.

    Some establishments allow shoes in the common areas, while others do not and provide slippers ( スリッパ, surippa) for wear in and around the building. Note that slippers should not be worn on tatami (Japanese mats), and there might even be separate toilet slippers for the bathroom. 

    Once you’re by your private onsen, it’s time to strip off. This part is crucial. Getting into the steaming hot mineral water with anything other than your clean body is seen as dirtying it. Afterwards, you can put your yukata (bathing robe) on and stroll around the gardens.

    5. Follow staff instructions

    Typically, ryokan staff will guide visitors to the onsen they reserved after check-in.

    Guests with in-room private onsen will likely be shown around their room and directed to the private pool attached to their room. 

    A coin is usually given to guests wanting to use a rent-by-the-hour private onsen kashikiriburo (貸切風呂) which is inserted into a machine that fills the onsen with fresh water. In some cases, guests might be instructed to hang a wooden tag on the door of the onsen room to indicate that it is occupied.

    6. Wash thoroughly before entering the onsen

    Pre-onsen cleansing is crucial. Ryokan have washing areas where bathers are expected to clean their body and hair before using the onsen using a bucket (洗面器, senmenki). Nothing- not even a towel, is allowed to enter the water with you, even when no one is watching.

    Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide on how to get this cleaning part right.

    7. Be sensible

    Sure, no one is watching, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to dive or jump into the onsen. These are places of calm serenity, and they should be treated as such. It's fine to splash a little, especially for your kids, but keep it to a minimum. 

    You might be tempted to let your head drop under the water, but health experts warn it could get you sick. Keep your head above the water’s surface, and in the case that your head starts to feel weighted, rest it against the pool’s edge. The hot water is bound to bring on dehydration after too long, so it’s best to limit each soak to an hour.

    walking outside private onsen ryokan with traditional japanese clothes

    8. Showcase your best manners


    As the saying goes, treat others the way you would like to be treated. Ryokan staff treat lodgers with a high degree of respect, offering impeccable Japanese hospitality (おもてなし, omotenashi) that follows traditional etiquette. Be sure to show them the same care and respect.

    In the onsen, normal rules apply. Refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking in the pools. Taking photos is tempting, but most ryokan staff ask that you  not take electronics near water. 

    If you are with children, ensure they have all used the toilet before entering the pools. Most baths are drained and refilled regularly, but dirtying the water in any way is considered impolite. 

    Still nervous about getting onsen etiquette right? Check out the onsen section of our article  in our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Customs. 

    Final Thoughts

    If you made it this far, it's safe to say that you now know a lot more about Japanese private onsen and onsen ryokan than most people! 

    Thousands of onsen can be found throughout Japan, and many ryokan offer the perfect quiet, secluded setting for you to enjoy it. If your schedule only allows for a brief getaway, look for onsen with day trip deals- you can still get the traditional bathing experience close to the city. However, if you’ve got more time and money to spend, you won’t regret treating yourself to a night in a luxurious washitsu room, finished off with a kaiseki meal, a chilled glass of sake and a long onsen soak.

    You should also be more confident navigating onsen etiquette! Remember to follow the 8 steps, and your weekend should be the stress-free getaway you’d dreamed of.

    Continue your learning journey by exploring our blog articles covering everything Japanese language, customs and culture.

    Archer

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