Roots of Japan

Love it more after realizing. Mysterious Nation - Japan

Get closer to Japan by realizing its root in simple explanation. Now, let's take a journey of Japanese culture!

What do most people overseas imagine when they think of Japanese hot springs?The fact that one must get naked in front of strangers is often mentioned, but it is seen as a way to experience Japanese culture.

At Japanese hot springs, men and women are separated at the entrance to the changing rooms. Usually the men's side is entered through a blue “noren”, or short curtain, and the women's side is entered through a red one. Of course, the bathing room is also separated by gender.However, since many hot springs overseas are also cold springs, people usually wear swimsuits!Few changing rooms are separated by gender. Of course, that's not always the case. (Maybe this is the case in European countries, but in North America, Australia and New Zealand men’s and women’s changing rooms are always separated.)The purpose of going to a hot spring is also slightly different between the West and Japan.In the West, many lands use hot springs as part of medical treatment, whereas in Japan it is mainly a form of recreation.It is even included in school club trips and excursions.Of course, there are people who also go to hot springs for “Toji”, or therapeutic bathing, which is the practice of staying at a hot spring for at least a week to enjoy its medicinal benefits.

Japanese hot springs are defined by a law that went into effect in 1948.In this way, hot springs and hot spring regions are carefully protected.

1/ The temperature must be 25.C or higher.

2/ It must contain at least one of 19 specific mineral components, such as Lithium ion (Li+) (per 1kg).
Some springs are called medicinal hot springs. Hot springs which are suitable for therapeutic bathing must contain certain components that are categorized according to the guidelines of the “Standard Method of Analysis for Mineral Springs”, as issued by the Ministry of the Environment.

1/ Simple Springs 2/ Chloride Springs 3/ Hydrogen Carbonate Springs
4/ Sulfate Springs 5/ Carbon Dioxide Springs 6/ Iron Springs
7/ Acidic Springs 8/ Iodine Springs 9/ Sulfur Springs 10/ Radium Springs

Iron (6) and Iodine Springs (8) are only for drinking, not bathing.Simple Springs (1), Acidic Springs (7) and Radium Springs (10) are not suitable for drinking.Where the water is suitable for drinking, you can usually find a special faucet for this purpose. How about trying at least once what hot springs water feels like inside your body?Not all hot springs fall in to the above categories.

There are some mineral springs which cannot be categorized even though they meet the definition of a hot spring. Depending on the type of spring water, if you have an illness or injury it is best to make sure it is suitable for your condition before entering the bath.

It may be inadvisable for people with certain illnesses or conditions to bathe in or drink the water, as doing so even once might cause an adverse reaction.

Please note there are various reasons why it may be inadvisable, some common to all spring waters, others due to the quality of a particular spring.

Bathing while pregnant is considered safe, as long as you take care not to slip or get dizzy and watch for skin trouble due to extra sensitivity.However, avoid bathing alone.

Japanese hot springs - clearly defined with various spring water qualities.How many hot spring regions are there in Japan?

3,084 places were recorded in 2015, but this refers only to accommodation facilities and doesn't include bathing facilities open for day trips.The prefecture with the largest number was Hokkaido (245), next was Nagano (224) and then Niigata (153).This is understandable as Hokkaido is very large island, so when you think about it, Nagano has a lot of hot springs in relation to its size!

From among the numerous hot spring regions, there are said to be “Three Ancient Springs” of Japan that date back to ancient times.There are two ways of selecting these hot springs.

One way is according to their appearance in “Nihon-shoki”, the oldest chronicles of Japan and in “Fudoki”, an ancient description of regional climate, culture, etc. Hot springs listed in these documents are Dōgo Onsen in Ehime prefecture, Arima Onsen in Hyogo prefecture and Shirahama Onsen in Wakayama prefecture.

Another way is to base the selection on the “Engishiki Jinmyocho”, a register of shrines in Japan. Included is Iwaki Yumoto Onsen in Fukushima prefecture as well as Arima Onsen and Dōgo Onsen.The Guinness Book of World Records certified Nishiyama Hot Spring, Keiunkan Inn in Yamanashi prefecture as the world's most historical inn. It was renovated in 1997 but was originally built in 705 AD and has an incredibly long history.

It's also legendary as the hidden hot spring used by Samurai lords Takeda Shingen and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In 2013 Kinosaki Onsen in Hyogo prefecture received a two-star rating in the French travel guide “Michelin Green Guide Japan”, and in the English guidebook “Lonely Planet” it was named one of the top hot spring destinations of Japan.In this way, Japanese hot springs have become even more widely known.

Here are some basic manners to observe while enjoying hot springs in Japan.

1/ Women with long hair should tie it up neatly.
No one likes to see other people's hair floating in the water!

2/ Wash your body with hot water (called kakeyu) before entering the bath.

If the hot spring has a specific place for “kakeyu”, please use the water provided.Depending on the hot spring, water may be used from a faucet while in other places, from the bath.There are two reasons for the practice of “kakeyu”. Firstly, it cleans the body. It also protects the heart as going straight into a hot bath can cause blood pressure to rise quickly.

3/ Avoid saving spaces at the communal washing area, even if it's crowded.
At hot springs where available, please use the shelves inside the bathing area to store your items.

4/ Enter at the point furthest from where the hot water pours into the bath, called “yujiri”.

Yuguchi means “hot water tap”.This is where the hot water flows into the bath.“Yujiri” is the furthest point from the “Yuguchi” tap.The reason for entering here first is that the water at this end is the most “dirty”.It would be rude to those already bathing if you enter the bath close to the hot water tap.The temperature is also lower here.Like the custom of pouring hot water on your body (kakeyu), this also reduces the strain on the heart.At times the water is surprisingly hot, so please be careful!

5/ Do not scrub your body while in the bath.
For example, you might think it would be ok to just check whether your skin has become nice and smooth yet.But if you scrub too hard or for too long dirt will come off as well.I think we'd all feel a bit uncomfortable if we saw someone doing that.

6/ Do not take your towel into the bath.
You might make the water dirty!Either place the towel on top of your head or use the shelves in the bathing room to store it while you soak.

7/ Wipe your body with a towel before you leave.
Before stepping into the changing room from the bathing area, first wring out your towel and wipe down your body.This will prevent you from feeling chilled after your bath.It would be a shame to lose that warmth!This also helps keep the changing room from getting wet.

Get changed and then it's time to go home!
It would be disappointing if your dry feet or socks got wet again...In addition to all the above, don't add more water just because you feel the hot springs are too hot!Remember, we are not the only ones bathing here.One more thing, some people have said they saw a diaper-wearing child enter the bath!

Even if you say you didn’t know, that’s no excuse for bad manners.There are many places that don't allow tattoos so please check in advance.

From the many kinds of hot springs water available, choose one that you like, show good manners, relax and enjoy your bath!May you achieve even better health as you enjoy the Japanese hot spring culture and your time in the surrounding hot spring town.

The summary and views expressed are the author's own.