FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO AREN’T FAMILIAR, Japanese people like to get naked and take baths together…in public. No biggie.
Most people call it “Onsen.” Onsen has a long and storied past that I do not have enough time to summarize, but most people attribute public bathing in Japan to two factors 1) the popularization of Buddhist purification rituals, combined with a large number of available natural hot spring sources, and 2) post-World War II Japan had a lack of private bathing facilities. I’m going to personally advocate for #2 as a bigger influencer in recent times (at least in urban areas anyway).
Since the ‘70s, private bathing options have become more available, causing public bathing as a necessity to drastically decline, whereas spa-like experience bathing is undergoing a renaissance.
So… first things first: Where to get naked?
There are two legit onsen in Tokyo. By this, I mean that these bros have drilled down 3,000 feet to access the giant volcanic aquifer that rests underneath all of Tokyo.
The first is a giant onsen theme park in Daiba, which is a manmade island in the middle of Tokyo Bay.
The place is called Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari, and it is much more accessible for the everyman than its more upscale and expensive spa-like alternative called Laqua (across the street from the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium. But hey, there’s a rollercoaster! So that’s a plus).
The onsen theme park in Daiba has many cool features.
They give you kimonos to wear around. There are restaurants and they have beer. You can throw ninja stars while drunk.
But we’re getting sidetracked.
Here is the basic step-by-step etiquette for getting naked at the onsen.
Step 1) Get inside, get registered, pick a kimono.
Step 2) Go to the male / female dressing room.
Step 3) Get naked and put all of your stuff in a locker.
Step 4) Take a modesty towel with you, but try to act cool. If you run around worried about people staring at your junk, more people are going to stare at your junk.
Step 5) Go to the designated shower area and wash your body thoroughly with soap and body wash before entering the bath.
Step 6) Get in the bath and go with the flow. Don’t stare at people and relax.
SPECIAL NOTE — TATTOOS!
If you have tattoos, they are banned in all onsen. But there’s a fix. Use athletic tape to cover your tattoos so no one will bother you. It’s basically a “Don’t ask don’t tell policy.” No one will ask why you have so many bandages, but if you ask if tattoos are okay, you’ll be bounced out of there faster than you can say “Sayonara.”