An onsen (温泉?) is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth. Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism.
Onsen come in many types and shapes, including outdoor (露天風呂 or 野天風呂 rotenburo or notenburo?) and indoor baths. Baths may be either public run by a municipality or private (内湯 uchiyu?) often run as part of a hotel, ryokan or Bed and Breakfast (民宿 minshuku?).
Onsen are a central feature of Japanese tourism often found out in the countryside but there are a number of popular establishments still found within major cities. They are a major tourist attraction drawing Japanese couples, families or company groups who want to get away from the hectic life of the city to relax. Japanese often talk of the virtues of "naked communion" (裸の付き合い hadaka no tsukiai?) for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of a ryokan with an attached onsen. Japanese television channels often feature special programs about local onsens.
The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or the kanji, 湯 (yu, meaning "hot water"). Sometimes the simpler hiragana character ゆ (yu) is used, to be understandable to younger children.
Traditionally, onsen were located outdoors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well. Onsen by definition use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs. Onsen should be differentiated from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water. The legal definition of an onsen includes that its water must contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements, including radon and metabolic acid and be 25°C or warmer before being reheated. Stratifications exist for waters of different temperatures. Major onsen resort hotels often feature a wide variety of themed spa baths and artificial waterfalls in the bathing area utaseyu (打たせ湯?).
Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. A particular onsen may feature several different baths, each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made with tile, acrylic glass or stainless steel. Different onsen also boast about their different waters or mineral compositions, plus what healing properties these may contain. Other services like massages may be offered.
Traditionally, men and women bathed together at the onsen and sentō but single-sex bathing has become legalized as the norm since the opening of Japan to the West during the Meiji period. Mixed-sex bathing persists at some special onsen (konyoku) in the rural areas of Japan, which usually also provide the option of separate "women-only" baths or different hours for the two sexes. Children of either sex may be seen in both the men's and the women's baths.
People often travel to onsen with work colleagues, friends, couples or their families.
At an onsen, as at a sentō, all guests are expected to wash their bodies and rinse themselves thoroughly before entering the hot water. Bathing stations are equipped with stools, faucets, wooden buckets, and toiletries such as soap and shampoo; nearly all onsen also provide removable shower heads for bathing convenience. Entering the onsen while still dirty or with traces of soap on the body is socially unacceptable.
Soakers are not normally allowed to wear swimsuits in the baths. However, some modern onsen having more of a waterpark atmosphere require their guests to wear a swimming suit in their mixed baths.
Onsen guests generally bring a small towel with them to use as a wash cloth. The towel can also provide a modicum of modesty when walking between the washing area and the baths. Some onsen allow one to wear the towel into the baths, while others have posted signs prohibiting this, saying that it makes it harder to clean the bath. It is sometimes against the rules to immerse or dip towels in the onsen bath water, since this can be considered unclean. In this latter case, people normally set their towels off to the side of the water when enjoying the baths, or place their folded towels on top of their heads.
Onsen vary from quiet to noisy, some play piped music and often feature gushing fountains. Bathers will engage in conversation in this relaxed situation. There are usually prohibitions against rowdiness in the washing and bathing areas of onsen. A small amount of excess energy and splashing around is usually tolerated from children, however.
Many onsen ban bathers with tattoos, which in Japan are traditionally perceived as a badge of criminality—Yakuza traditionally have elaborate tattoos. Despite this background reason, the rule is often enforced strictly against all, including foreigners, women, and even when tattoos are small and "peaceful".
The volcanic nature of Japan provides plenty of springs. When the onsen's water contains distinctive minerals or chemicals, the onsen establishments display what type of onsen it is.
Some examples of types of onsen include:
- Sulphur onsen (硫黄泉 iō-sen?)
- Sodium chloride onsen (ナトリウム泉 natoriumu-sen?)
- Hydrogen carbonate onsen (炭酸泉 tansan-sen?)
- Iron onsen (鉄泉 tetsu-sen?)
In Japan, it is said onsen have various medical effects. Japanese people believe that a good soak in proper onsen heals aches, pains and diseases, and visit onsen to treat the illnesses, such as arthralgia, chronic skin diseases, diabetes, constipation, menstrual disorders and so on.
These medical benefits have given onsen a central role in balneotherapy which is called "Onsen Therapy" (温泉療法 onsen-ryōhō?). Onsen Therapy is a comprehensive bathing treatment conducted to maintain health, normalize dysfunctions and prevent illness.
Although millions of Japanese bathe in onsen every year with few noticeable side effects, there has been concern that the warm wet conditions lead to the transmission of infections. Some concerns include:
- Athlete's foot fungal infection.
- The Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which lives in warm waters and soils worldwide and can cause meningitis. Several deaths have been attributed to this amoeba, which enters the brain through the nasal passages.
- Acanthamoeba, which can also spread through hot springs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Legionella bacteria, which have been documented to spread through hot springs.
- There is some suggestion that a bather's toe was infected with herpes simplex virus from a hot spring in Japan.
- There has been some concern that the temperature and mineral composition of natural hot spring water does not represent as much protection from infection as had been thought previously.
Many onsen have posted notices for visitors, reminding anyone with open cuts, sores, or lesions to not bathe. This precaution limits the overall risk to bathers and the overall risk to individuals in good health is very slight. The case scenarios of herpetic and amoebic infections are remarkable not so much in that they occur, but rather that the affected persons are predominantly persons with reduced immune systems and likely skin lesions.[verification needed] (The herpetic infection cited above occurring on the foot of a diabetic individual is a good anecdotal representation.)
Over the past few decades, there have been several incidents in which foreigners were prohibited entry to some public baths. In one publicized case, blame for lost business was specifically laid on Russian fishermen arriving in Northern Japanese ports. This issue was highlighted in February 2001, when Debito Arudou and two co-plaintiffs, sued Yunohana Onsen in Otaru, Hokkaidō, for openly refusing service to customers because of their race. Yunohana Onsen lost the lawsuit in November 2002. Out of the thousands of onsen that exist in Japan, only three were reported to have practiced discrimination of this kind.
- Akagi, Gunma
- Akayu, Yamagata
- Arima Onsen (ja:有馬温泉), Kobe, Hyōgo, one of the most famous onsen outside Japan, in Kobe
- Asamushi Onsen (ja:浅虫温泉), Aomori
- Aso, Kumamoto, a famous Onsen area alongside Mount Aso, an active volcano
- Atami Onsen (ja:熱海温泉), Atami, Shizuoka, major onsen resort town near Tokyo
- Dōgo Onsen (ja:道後温泉), Ehime
- Futamata, Hokkaidō
- Gero, Gifu - famous for its free open bath on riverbank of Hida River
- Getō Onsen (ja:夏油温泉), Iwate
- Ginzan Onsen (ja:銀山温泉), Obanazawa, Yamagata
- Hakone, Kanagawa, famous onsen resort town near Tokyo
- Hanamaki, Iwate
- Hirayu Onsen (ja:平湯温泉), Takayama, Gifu
- Hokkawa Onsen (ja:北川温泉 (静岡県)), Shizuoka
- Ibusuki, Kagoshima
- Itō, Shizuoka
- Iwamuro, Niigata, famous for onsen since the Edo period
- Jigokudani, Nagano
- Jōzankei Onsen (ja:定山渓温泉), Hokkaidō
- Kakeyu Onsen (ja:下鹿教湯温泉), Nagano
- Kanzanji Onsen (ja:舘山寺温泉), Shizuoka
- Kindaichi Onsen, Iwate
- Kinosaki (ja:城崎温泉), Hyōgo
- Kinugawa Onsen, Tochigi
- Kurokawa Onsen Village, Kumamoto
- Kusatsu hot springs (ja:草津温泉), Gunma, one of the most famous onsen outside Japan
- Nagaragawa Onsen, Gifu, Gifu
- Sawatari, Gunma
- Shima, Gunma
- Naruko, Miyagi
- Noboribetsu, Hokkaidō
- Nuruyu, Kumamoto
- Nyūtō Onsen (ja:乳頭温泉郷), Akita
- Onneyu Onsen (ja:温根湯温泉), Hokkaidō
- Sabakoyu Onsen, Fukushima, the oldest community onsen in Japan
- Sakunami, Miyagi
- Senami Onsen (ja:瀬波温泉), Niigata
- Shimabara, Nagasaki
- Shimobe Onsen (ja:下部温泉), Yamanashi
- Shiobara Onsen (ja:塩原温泉郷), Tochigi
- Shuzenji Onsen (ja:修善寺温泉), Shizuoka
- Sōunkyo Onsen (ja:層雲峡温泉), Hokkaidō
- Sukayu, Aomori
- Sumatakyō Onsen (ja:寸又峡温泉), Shizuoka
- Suwa, Nagano
- Takanoyu Onsen, Akita
- Takaragawa, Gunma, one of the largest konyoku rotenburo (outdoor mixed bath) in Japan
- Takarazuka, Hyōgo
- Tara, Saga
- Tōyako, Hokkaidō
- Tsukioka Onsen (ja:月岡温泉), Niigata
- Tsurumaki Onsen (ja:鶴巻温泉), Kanagawa
- Unazuki Onsen (ja:宇奈月温泉), Kurobe, Toyama
- Wakura Onsen (ja:和倉温泉), Nanao, Ishikawa
- Yubara Onsen (ja:湯原温泉), Okayama, one of the largest co-ed baths at the foot of Yubara dam
- Yudanaka Onsen (ja:湯田中渋温泉郷), Nagano
- Yufuin, Oita, one of the most famous onsen outside Japan
- Yugawara, Kanagawa
- Yunokawa, Hokkaidō
- Yuzawa, Niigata
- Zaō Onsen, Yamagata
- Awara Onsen (ja:芦原温泉), Awara, Fukui
- Awazu Onsen (ja:粟津温泉), Komatsu, Ishikawa
- Beppu Onsen (ja:別府温泉), Beppu, Ōita, famous for its multi-coloured baths
- Ikaho Onsen (ja:伊香保温泉), Ikaho, Gunma
- Kaike Onsen (ja:皆生温泉), Yonago, Tottori
- Katayamazu Onsen (ja:片山津温泉), Kaga, Ishikawa
- Kawayu Onsen (ja:川湯温泉), Tanabe, Wakayama
- Misasa Onsen (ja:三朝温泉), Misasa, Tottori
- Nanki-Katsuura Onsen (ja:南紀勝浦温泉), Nachikatsuura, Wakayama
- Nanki-Shirahama Onsen (ja:南紀白浜温泉), Shirahama, Wakayama
- Ryujin Onsen (ja:龍神温泉), Tanabe, Wakayama, one of Japan's famous three beautifying onsen
- Tsubame Onsen (ja:燕温泉), Niigata - famous for its free open konyoku (mixed) onsen
- Yamanaka Onsen (ja:山中温泉), Kaga, Ishikawa
- Yamashiro Onsen (ja:山代温泉), Kaga, Ishikawa
- Yumura Onsen (ja:湯村温泉 (兵庫県)), (Shin'onsen), Hyōgo
- Yunomine Onsen (ja:湯の峰温泉), Tanabe, Wakayama, site of the UNESCO World Heritage Tsuboyu bath
References and notes
- This term should be carefully differentiated from the word skinship (スキンシップ sukinshippu?) which refers to the benefits of physical contact, for instance, on babies by their mothers.
- In very isolated onsen, where there is no possibility to use soap before entering in the bath, onsen users are expected to at least rinse their body with the water of the bath before entering it.
- Covering the offending tattoo with sticking plaster can sometimes solve the problem. "Onsen Warnings and Hassles"
- Getting into hot water for health. The Japan Times. May 25, 2003.
- Given the popularity of Japanese hot spring bathing, it is not surprising that many of the reports of infection in the medical literature come from Japan.
- "Naegleria". Emedicine.
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- Renée Despres (2003-07-17). "Hotsprings in the Gila National Forest". Southern New Mexico.
Visitors to the hot springs should also take some simple precautions against a rare form of meningitis caused by an amoeba, Naegleria fowler
- "Acanthamoeba Infection Fact Sheet". CDC.
- H. Miyamoto; S. Jitsurong, R. Shiota, K. Maruta, S. Yoshida, E. Yabuuchi (1997). "Molecular determination of infection source of a sporadic Legionella pneumonia case associated with a hot spring bath". Microbiol Immunol. 41 (3): 197–202. PMID 9130230. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Eiko Yabuuchi; Kunio Agata, Kansenshogaku zasshi (Kansenshogaku zasshi) (2004). "An outbreak of legionellosis in a new facility of hot spring Bath in Hiuga City". Kansenshogaku zasshi 78 (2): 90–98. ISBN 0387-5911 Check
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- Maki Ozawa; Tomoyuki Ōtani, and Hachirō Tagami (2004). "Indolent herpetic whitlow of the toe in an elderly patient with diabetic neuropathy". Dermatology Online Journal 10 (1): 16. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Paul de Vries (2008-12-02). "Back to the baths: Otaru revisited Paul de Vries sees worrying precedent for Japan in 2002 landmark court ruling". Japan Times.
- Hotta, Anne, and Yoko Ishiguro. A Guide to Japanese Hot Springs. New York: Kodansha America, 1986. ISBN 0870117203.
- Fujinami, Kōichi. Hot Springs in Japan. Tokyo: Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways; Maruzen Company, Ltd., 1936.
- Neff, Robert. Japan's Hidden Hot Springs. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1995. ISBN 0804819491.
- Seki, Akihiko, and Elizabeth Heilman Brooke. The Japanese Spa: A Guide to Japan's Finest Ryokan and Onsen. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2005. ISBN 080483671X. Reprinted as Ryokan: Japan's Finest Spas and Inns, 2007. ISBN 0804838399.
|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to [[commons: Category:Hot springs of Japan
| Hot springs of Japan]].
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- The Way of the Hot Springs Beppu Onsen Rally Blog
- Onsen of Fukuoka Prefecture from official page of Fukuoka Prefecture Tourism Association
- Guide around Yudanaka Onsen, Shibu Onsen and Jigokudani Monkey park onsen
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- Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau Indepth information on onsen in Wakayama Prefecture