Public Bath Hot Spring Culture and Manners

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Japan has its own bathing culture. A representative public bathing facility is the sento bathhouse. These bathhouses are commonly seen all throughout Japan and let you enjoy bathing in huge tubs at reasonable costs.

In contrast, hot spring water is water that meets certain conditions set forth by law, and establishments that can use these waters for bathing are generally referred to as hot spring resorts.

Types of Hot Springs and Sento Bathhouses

Sento bathhouses: Public bathing facilities where customers pay a fee to enter and bathe in. Customers pass through a gender-segregated entrance and the facilities consist of a spacious dressing room and bathing area with a large bath tub and enough shower-faucet sets that produce hot and cold water for dozens of people to use at the same time. Sento bathhouses are relatively low-priced bathing facilities that are approved by local municipalities and range from 400 to 450 yen (depending on the local municipality (data gathered in April 2014)).

You may want to try out the various types of unique bathhouses that have their own distinctive features such as those with exteriors that replicate temples and shrines, those with huge murals of Mount Fuji in the bathrooms, and those with saunas and electric baths (with massage effects).

These bathhouses are part of the communities that they are located in as they are used mainly by their nearby residents.

They were once located everywhere you went in Japan but are decreasing in number with the increase of household baths. They may be decreasing in number but will not disappear any time soon, so have a try at one of these bathhouses, which are part of Japan’s bathing culture.
 

National Federation of Public Bath Industry Trade Unions
High-grade communal bathhouses: Bathing facilities that that are larger in scale than sento bathhouses with a capacity ranging from dozens to hundreds of guests. When compared with the highly public sento bathhouses, these facilities are filled with variety and creativity of their operators as there are bathing facilities with Jacuzzis, saunas, and outdoor baths, those with restaurants and areas for relaxing in, those that provide a lot of entertainment, and so on. Prices may range from hundreds of yen to three thousand yen. There are facilities such as Hakone Yunessun, where you can bathe in a bathing suit if you are uncomfortable with being naked in front of strangers.
 
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Hot spring resorts: Hot spring resorts are locations with “untouched water” specified by law with the temperature at the source being 25 degrees or above or 1 kilogram of the mineral water containing a designated minimal amount of certain ingredients. Facilities that provide these diverted waters are generally called hot spring resorts. There are also some sento bathhouses and “super sentos” that use hot spring water. Furthermore, regions that are abundant with hot springs have many lodging facilities known as hot spring inns and quick stop bath houses (for single-day bathing facilities), and historic hot spring areas are scenic tourist spots.
 
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Bathing Manners

– Bundle your hair higher than your shoulders before entering the bath if you have long hair.
– Be sure to wash your body before entering the bath.
– When bathing, be careful so that items such as your towel do not enter the bath.
– When washing your body, be careful so that soap bubbles and shower water do not splash out to other areas.
– Do not let water running for long periods of time.
– Do not swim or cause a nuisance.
– Do not wash clothes in the bathing area.
– Do not bring in food or drinks.
– Return items that you use back to their original locations.
– Wipe your body with a small handheld towel before leaving the bathing area and entering the dressing room.
– Do not wear a bathing suit except in designated areas.
– It is improper to add cold water in order to lower the temperature of the water even if you feel that it is too hot.
 

Tips on Bathing

– Many facilities offer bath towels for rent or for sale. Give it a try even if you do not have a towel. You can also purchase a towel at a shop such as a convenience store.
– Many towels sold at hot spring facilities make good reminders of your trip to take home as most of them have hot spring logos printed on them. (Loaned towels must be returned.)
– You can leave your valuables in a coin-operated locker or at the front desk. There are many facilities that have one locker per guest at the dressing rooms.
– Guests may use one basket each in the dressing rooms.
– Most facilities have hairdryers.
– Most hot spring inns, quick stop bathhouses, and super sentos have liquid soap and shampoo prepared for the guests. Guests must bring or purchase their own at sento bathhouses (available in quantities for one visit for a few dozen yen).
– Most sento bathhouses do not prohibit people with tattoos from entering, but many high-grade communal bathhouses do.
 
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