One of the best parts of Japan’s winter traditions is going to an onsen (hot spring). Submerging yourself in hot water warms your cold bones like nothing else, leaving you relaxed and ready for bed when you step out of the changing rooms.
Going to an onsen for the first time isn’t easy for everyone, though. Not only do you need to get naked in front of strangers (or worse, your own family), but the many customs and rules can be scary for first-timers.
Read on to learn more about what to expect on your first dip in the onsen.
A brief history of onsen
Japan is incredibly mountainous; of those many mountains, 440 are volcanoes. So, it makes sense that there are so many hot springs. Given that the winters can be particularly harsh in many parts of Japan, the hot springs would have also been a welcome escape from the cold.
Bathing in onsen goes back thousands of years, with some of the earliest written records being in the Man’yoshu, a collection of traditional Japanese poems compiled around AD 759. Some of the oldest onsens are Dogo Onsen, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and Arima Onsen.
It wasn’t until late in the Edo period (1603–1867) that common people began to visit onsen for recreational purposes.
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