Onsen Like a Local
Nozawa Onsen is home to 13 free indoor onsen (hot springs) called ‘soto-yu’. Visiting the onsen is a treasured part of Japanese culture and for most Nozawa locals is a part of their everyday life. However, it is more than just bathing - it’s an experience. It’s a time to relax, unwind and even catch up for a chat! You too can enjoy this experience like a local by following these handy tips on onsen etiquette. You’ll be well on your way to visiting the onsen like a local. Not only will your efforts be appreciated, but it will make for a more meaningful and enjoyable onsen experience!
Always take the small towel
The hotel will normally provide you with a large and small towel; the small towel, labelled with the hotel name, is for use in the onsen. It can be used for washing and to cover yourself as you walk around.
It can get pretty hot and steamy in the onsen so it’s best to hydrate before you get in. A glass of water or cup of tea will do the trick, even an alcoholic beverage - but please don’t drink in the onsen! However, to really onsen like a local, hold off on your glass of red until after you’ve soaked.
Kakeyu, the act of rinsing yourself and warming up before entering the onsen, is a crucial rule of etiquette. Using the small buckets and water from the onsen have a quick wash, but try not to splash too much - you only need to wash yourself, not everyone else in the onsen.
No towel in the tub
As many people will be using the onsen, it is good manners to keep your personal towel out of the onsen. You may see many Japanese people fold it and place it on their head. Soaking it in cold water first is also a good idea to keep you cool as you relax.
Your time in the onsen is like using your favourite shampoo or conditioner. You get in, get out and then repeat several times. This allows you to warm up more safely and effectively. In a hot onsen, a 10 minute session with 2 breaks is recommended and in a slightly cooler onsen you can extend it to 20 minutes.
Embrace the flower power
The water source of onsens will vary and as such sometimes dark material can be seen beneath your feet. But don’t fear! This is not dirt, but rather the highly regarded yu no hana, or “onsen flowers”, that have come from the onsen water source.
Before entering the “dry area” of the onsen, usually the changing area, be sure to pat yourself down with your small towel and wring it out if needed. Leaving water trails and puddles of water in the changing area is not considered good onsen etiquette.
They are usually least busy between 9am and 3pm. Some of the onsens here can be very HOT so be sure to dip a toe in before jumping in. Kuma no Tearai is a safe place to start if you want a more comfortable temperature. Alternatively, you could opt for a more luxurious onsen experience at either Furusato no Yu or SPArena which both charge a small entrance fee. If you would like to know more about the various onsen here, why not book a place on the daily village tour with one of our English speaking tour guides.