In Japan, there’s an annual event called the Hadaka Matsuri or Naked Festival, where participants, typically male, gather at an onsen in the middle of winter and compete to grab sacred wooden sticks thrown into the cold water. The person who manages to retrieve the sticks is believed to receive good luck for the year. This event is celebrated in various locations throughout Japan and has a long history dating back several centuries. It’s a unique cultural tradition that combines the love of onsen bathing with a bit of adventure and ritual.
Having been travelling around Asia for the last few months, I’ve been introduced to wonders of the Japanese onsen.
You think the traditional sauna to ice plunge experience is good for you – I can tell you the onsen will introduce you to a therapeutic bathing experience you have been blissfully unaware of.
I am converted.
The traditional Japanese onsen are social pools using the naturally occurring geothermal hot springs found across Japan. Heated by the Earth’s volcanic activity, Japan is a volcanic archipelago blessed with in excess of 27,000 natural onsens. Each come with their own mineral composition, temperature, and scenic backdrop.
A fully naked experience, onsens have been celebrated for their therapeutic benefits and cultural significance in Japan for centuries. If you’re looking to relax, rejuvenate the body, and experience an authentic Japanese experience, a visit to an onsen is recommended.
And you just need to overcome the fact that people bathe naked.
In 2023, purpose built onsens can be found across Asia, usually in hotels, high-end gyms, and health spas, providing a variety of hot and cold bathing pools, jet pools, and pools infused with salts and minerals. The countless pools are designed for a deep restoration of our physical and emotional selves, rejuvenation of the muscles, joints, and skin, and to leave us feeling alleviated of all life’s tensions.
And it works.
While purpose built onsens may lack the natural, rustic charm of a traditional onsen, they have made the bathing experience more accessible across Asia, and allow for a wider variety of bathing pools to choose from.
I recently visited the Onsen in Sathorn, Bangkok, and it opened my eyes to a new, transcendent way of bathing I’ve been wholly unaware of.
Visiting an onsen, whether natural or purpose-built, provides a myriad of benefits for the body, mind, and cognitive acuity. Benefits include:
The effects of an onsen visit will last long after you’ve left the bath, both physical and psychological. I visited on a Sunday evening, and found I had one of the most pleasurable and relaxing starts to a Monday I’ve experienced in ages. Ongoing benefits include:
Japan’s landscape has over 27,000 natural onsens, each possessing its own unique charm. The allure of each onsen can depend on its geographical location, the backdrop against which you’re bathing, or the minerals found in the waters. When exploring onsens, some things you will want to consider before you go are:
Visiting a natural onsen in Japan is not just about relaxation; it’s a cultural and natural experience that connects visitors to the country’s heritage. Whether you’re drawn to the beauty of the snowy mountains and lush forests, the mineral-rich waters, or the social aspect of the onsen, they offer a unique and rejuvenating experience across Japan’s diverse and beautiful landscapes.
Purpose-built onsens, although lack the drama of the scenic backrdrops that come with Japan’s iconic landscape, they’re practically allows for a broader mix of pools with different temperatures and features to cater to all preferences:
Although it is recommended to not eat a heavy meal before entering an onsen, I do recommend eating a carb and protein heavy meal a few hours earlier. You are likely to be there for a few hours, and you will be sweating out lots of salts, minerals, and toxins. Not having enough fuel in your system may lead you to feeling dizzy.
I recommend also eating fruit a few hours before, and drinking lots of water throughout. You need to remain hydrated on the day.
Take a 1.5 litre of coconut water with you for your locker, it’s rich in naturally occurring electrolytes which your body will need after the onsen.
When visiting an onsen, it’s important you adhere to traditional practices and etiquette:
The policy regarding tattoos in onsens varies from one place to another. Historically, tattoos have been associated with the yakuza, Japan’s organised crime groups, which has led to a negative perception of tattoos in public places. As a result, many onsens have enforced strict no-tattoo policies.
However, in recent years, some onsens have become more lenient and relaxed their tattoo policies to accommodate foreign visitors and younger generations. There are onsens that may allow small tattoos or are willing to accept visitors with tattoos if they agree to cover them with waterproof bandages or tape. These policies can vary greatly from one onsen to another, so it’s essential to check the specific rules and regulations of the onsen you plan to visit.
If you have visible tattoos and are uncertain about a particular onsen’s policy, it’s advisable to contact the onsen in advance to inquire about their rules regarding tattoos. Additionally, some onsens, particularly those in larger cities and tourist areas, may have facilities or times set aside for tattooed guests to use the baths discreetly.
While the situation is evolving, it’s essential to respect the rules and traditions of the onsen you choose to visit. If you have tattoos, it’s best to be aware of the specific policies in place and be prepared to comply with them to ensure a smooth and respectful onsen experience.
Natural onsens and purpose-built onsens offer distinct experiences and are cherished for their health benefits and cultural significance.
Whether you’re drawn to the natural beauty of a remote hot spring or the convenience of a modern onsen found across Asia, a visit to an onsen promises relaxation, rejuvenation, and a deeper connection with Japanese culture.
Embrace its unique practices and etiquette, experience the full depth of its healing capability, and savour the countless benefits that come with bathing in the soothing waters of the onsen.
Having been biohacking my mind and body long before it became fashionable, I’ve always lived by the benefits of nature’s resources to improve cognitive and physiological performance. Using my years of experience, products, and wellness practices, I’m now helping others elevate their cognitive performance to help build the life they want. I save you the time I’ve spent learning, so you can focus your time on building.
I proudly use AI to support development of my articles. As a heavily dyslexic person, writing can be a time consuming process with words often jumbled up and sentences the wrong way round. AI has become my crutch; allowing me to share the immense interest in my mind, while making content creation quicker and more accurate. AI is my benefit.
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