lifestyle

Going to an 'onsen' while on your period: Cultural taboo or well-prepared OK experience?

27 Comments
By Julia Mascetti

There are articles all over the internet on period sex, but what about period onsen? How many Japanese and foreign women have tried it? Are the only reasons to refrain simply social taboos, or are there legitimate medical issues? And if you are taking the plunge, what products will serve you best? After being curious about it for way too long on my own, and after discovering that many other women are asking the same questions, I decided it was about time to plunge in and get some answers. 

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Attitudes about period onsen in Japan

Like in many countries, the Japanese attitude to menstruation seems complex and contradictory. Although the practice has mostly died out, traditionally a girl’s first period was a rite of passage in many areas of Japan, celebrated with food (typically, red beans rice) and rituals. Japan today is also one of the only countries in the world where women are legally entitled to menstruation leave — though whether they actually feel comfortable taking it is another matter.

Yet, during my stay in Japan, I’ve come across multiple signs at onsen telling me not to use the baths during menstruation. According to a 2017 MyNavi Women survey asking 176 women, the vast majority — 73.3 percent — said that they believe period onsen was unacceptable, with most of them stating lack of hygiene and consideration toward other people as their prime reasons.

To the contrary, the 26.7 percent who were not against it, said that “it should be okay as long as one washes well before entering the onsen,” and “as long as one is using a tampon, it shouldn’t be an issue.”

But then again — are we talking simply about public concerns and principles? What if there’s no one else in the onsen with you? Would it be safe for you to enter?

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27 Comments
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I agree with the above poster about how little blood may be in the diluted water. If people are taking the proper precautions then it should be fine. I personally can’t because I have extreme blood loss (300 ml) and am risk of fainting. But I still go to swimming pools because they aren’t as hot and don’t trigger me to faint.

Fun fact: some people may have minor urine leakage during a sneeze, especially the elderly or women who have given birth vaginally. Those people can enter the hot spring anytime. No water is going to be prestige and as long as you aren’t drinking in it and have a quick rinse after you bathe, it should be fine!

7 ( +8 / -1 )

@Sandie Gripper

Period isn't "dirty" the same way the other things you mention are, and they can't really be compared. Period blood is actually very clean, and you won't get sick from it like you will by someone sneezing or pooping on you (however that would work). Of course I can understand not wanting to touch other people's period - I don't exactly want to myself. But comparing it to poop or sneezing is just not reasonable.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

I would be mostly concerned about the female getting an infection. The amount of menstrual blood loss at any one time is usually minor, and the water in spas is usually circulating in and out, no? There is nothing especially "dirty" about menstrual blood. A person with a nose bleed would probably foul the water more than a person with a minor menstrual bleed.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

You do realise that people are naked when bathing in Onsens

Yes. I don't understand what you are saying here - menstruating women can never go naked? Even at home?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

If you have a fresh tampon or menstrual cup in, there is less of leakage from the vagina than there is of anal leakage or urination when someone farts or sneezes.

As for "major loss of blood during periods" - what? The average blood loss for one entire period - ie over several days - is about 80ml, ie the equivalent of 16 teaspoons (Source: NHS website). Calm the heck down.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

EDIT: *less chance of leakage

3 ( +5 / -2 )

@Sandle Gripper: Look it up on youtube.

I assume you know that there is a youtube video supporting any and every urban legend and all manner of crazy ideas. I reckon the odds of getting HIV from menstrual flow in the bath is the same as me getting elected president of the US. In the men's baths where I roll, the icky smell of secreted fat and sweat in a crowded bath makes me wonder what is in the water and appreciate my alone shower time.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I just found the topic weird for a newspaper article.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

 What would happen if another person with a fresh cut, and a loose bandage on a finger unknowingly swept this effluent into the cut?

Why is someone with a fresh cut or a loose bandage in an onsen? That's a health hazard right there, since they are definitely carrying bacteria. I would certainly hope that other guests loudly embarrass them and then complain to the staff and make sure they aren't allowed back.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Maria: Why is someone with a fresh cut or a loose bandage in an onsen? That's a health hazard right there, since they are definitely carrying bacteria. I would certainly hope that other guests loudly embarrass them and then complain to the staff and make sure they aren't allowed back.

I would agree with you and also say the same about menstruation, which definitely has bacteria in the mix.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I don't see what the big issue is here, as people do not wash in an onsen bath, they soak. If you're getting out of an onsen and drying straight away without showering again, well ..........

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As one of the commenter has wrote "over several days - is about 80ml" ive just looked at one of my measuring spoons in the kitchen that is 15ml ( 1 table spoon) in a day or there about, although the idea of that an amount of blood lost seems a lot, and seems disgusting to think that your bathing in it, but when you dilute that into 1000's of gallons or more of water its nothing. also the water in most onsens, is constantly being topped up buy fresh water, so the whole onset pool is being changed every two, three hours, its nice that ladies are aware and are respectful of other users, I don't think its a major issue.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

As Talaredokko has said, this isn't an issue anyway. I wouldn't have considered not going to an onsen because I was on the rag, any more than I would not go to the pool - unless I didn't feel like it. Of course women can go have a bath! It's the 21st century, and there are plenty of ways to prevent leakage - tampons, sponges, cups. Women no longer have to cut up rags and stuff them with straw... The day everyone is required to bung up their seeping orifices before getting into a communal pool, is the day this becomes a topic.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Interesting that those with the biggest concerns about this (male posters) are those that will almost definitely never be in the same onsen as the menstruating women in the first place.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It’s unsanitary and disrespectful toward other people 

I didn’t care much about reason No. 1, but arguments two and three require serious consideration.

That's right! Who cares about others. Refraining from fouling the water with an open sore or vaginal bleeding is common sense, lost on this writer.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

Whatever accidentally-excreted strangers' bodily fluids are in the onsen, swimming pool or my chosen area of sea bathing, I will trust to my immune system to sort it out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Reckless,

You can’t hold the user’s of the medium against it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-uGWut6IRfA

There are lots of other videos out there, and also other similar interviews. I would judge the content after viewing 2-5 of them for myself instead of using the existence of conspiracy kooks to condemn the whole of available content on youtube.

I believe there was a Dr. Harold Oscher of Louisianna that knocked his own grandchild off in a publicity stunt with V 1 of a “Release ready” vaccine. The idea behind vaccines is wonderful, but there is lots of undiscovered science which we are liable to. Scientists after finishing human genomics dismissed much material as “Junk DNA” because the reality is they couldn’t figure it out, and they had to reconcile it with their theory of evolution. Ten years or so later they realize it is not junk, and a handful after that they discover a new type of DNA.

Don’t confuse scientism with the scientific method or social legitimacy or appeals to authority with actual reality.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm a feminist and a kick-a** female, but this is just NO. It is unsanitary and just plain disgusting. You cannot be so utterly indifferent to those around you that you would igore the fact that you could have blood seeping from you into the water that everyone else is using. If I ever see a woman on her period in the onsen, I am going to loudly embarrass her and then complain to the staff and make sure she isn't allowed back.

-1 ( +8 / -9 )

My gosh how mych “Japanese-ness” psychoanalysis does a fella need?

This isnt a “Japanese” problem its a normal simple dilema that this article would have you thinking is an actual problem here.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

How is sharing a bath with other people while on your period ok? Doesn't matter what country you come from it's a disgusting act, selfish too if you expect people to sit in a bath of your menstrual fluid.

Common decency

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

Look it’s a conscious decision for a menstruating female to go to a public bath or not.

And any female with amodicum of common sense wouldn’t......

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Jonorth,

I probably should not have expressed myself with that much vitriol earlier, but the mysoginism comment irked me. Anyways, whatever viral load a person has, HIV, Hep C, or many other things, these are all contained in menstrual effluent. The original polio virus had SV40 or basically monkey cancer virus in it. Biopsies of tumors in many Baby Boom cancer patients, upon culturing will show the same virus which was unfortunately a byproduct of using monkeys to produce the vaccine. Look it up on youtube. This as well as many other unknown pathogens are in many people’s blood. I read a 98-99 era CDC (American Center For Disease Control) surveillance report which broke down HIV statistics by demography, and means of contraction in the US. It has been a while (Remembering the exact number is difficult) but between 9 or 19 percent of the contraction methodologies were unknown.

Using HIV as an example, fresh menstrual leakage onto onsen tile at the margin of the pool could contain live virus within the thickness of the lost blood. What would happen if another person with a fresh cut, and a loose bandage on a finger unknowingly swept this effluent into the cut? It is not as statistically improbable as one would think. Stranger things have happened. This represents a more serious threat than catching the flu or a cold from being directly sneezed upon or catching Hep A or B eating food prepared by a food service worker who fails to properly was their hands after defecating.

This is just basic sanitation, science, health, and consideration. I love women, and there is no intention to denigrate them embodied in my comments, although I understand you are not implying that. Just trying to respectfully respond to your comment.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

What a disgusting, ill informed article. Women can swim when menstruating, they can bathe too. How much blood do you think most women lose when menstruating? Add to the fact that most women do not free bleed and use sanitary products when menstruating, this whole debate is just individuals believing that periods are icky. In fact, you are more at risk from contamination from anal leakage and gas, as well as from those urinating in the onsen.

The mindset that menstruation is somehow dirty and disgusting is misogynistic. Some of you need to read up on menstruation, and that seems to include some women. It's about time these prejudice based cultural taboos were smashed.

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

What a disgusting, ill informed article. Women can swim when menstruating, they can bathe too.

You do realise that people are naked when bathing in Onsens

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Just ask at the onsen front desk whether they’re ok with it.

Simple!

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

@Jonorth: Period isn't "dirty" the same way the other things you mention are, and they can't really be compared. Period blood is actually very clean

Well then as Sandie Gripper suggested go ahead and put in on your pancakes! It is really hard to grasp the complete lack of common sense and hygiene of some posters here. In any case, when you are a guest at an onsen with strangers it would be polite to follow the rules, and also let others know that you intend to muddy the waters so to speak.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

“The mindset that menstruation is somehow dirty and disgusting is misogynistic. Some of you need to read up on menstruation, and that seems to include some women. It's about time these prejudice based cultural taboos were smashed.”

Feminism which espouses women’s suffrage or equal work for equal pay was great, and I agree with that value system completely. But, radical feminism, and SJW PC thinking is literally destroying many societies around the world starting with the West.

This comment about mysoginistic thinking is like saying that, “The mindset that defecating is somehow dirty and disgusting is racist.” Defecating, sneezing, urinating, menstrating are all biological functions which are necessary, and amoral, but all of them are dirty. I find it bizzare I have to make a statement to an adult about things someone in elementary school would understand. If you feel menstrual effluent is some marker of feminine sanctity, and wholly clean, why do you not use it for syrup on your pancakes? I suppose not wanting to be sneezed on is the marker of one who abuses animals.

This issue is about common decency, and respect for others, not signalling that you are a paragon of virtue by pretending you are some open minded progressive. Quit faking moral virtue by being a highly prejudiced, and aggressive person, who berates rational people with false equivalencies designed to shame them in promotion of nonsense. Stop your schoolyard bullying in support of a destructive social agenda, and quit contorting discussions by injecting political context that doesn’t exist into them.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

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