When I write about Japanese ‘onsen’ in English, I use the Japanese word ‘onsen’ rather than using any related foreign words such as ‘hot spring’ or ‘spa’ (as referred in this article).
I do this because I hope that the word ‘onsen’ will become a universal common word.
In English, there are similar words, such as ‘spa’ and ‘hot spring.’ Therefore, I’m writing about the differences between the meanings of ‘spa,’ the ‘hot spring,’ and ‘onsen.’
Firstly, I’ll talk about the meaning of ‘spa.’
As a lot of people might know, the origin of the word ‘spa’ stems from the name of a spa resort in Belgium called ‘spa.’
The definition of the word ‘spa’ in the English Wikipedia is: A spa is a location where mineral-rich spring water (and sometimes seawater) is used to give medicinal baths. Spa towns or spa resorts (including hot spring resorts) typically offer various health treatments, which are also known as balneotherapy.
spa (Dec. 6, 2019, 12:23UTC+9). In Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spa
Therefore, I think that it is used as a health improvement method or a medical treatment method with warm water containing some minerals.
It is very similar to a culture called “Touji”, a custom seen in Japan for a long time.
“Touji” is a body-healing method where you stay in an onsen resort for a relatively long period (one week or more), to soak in an onsen to heal your body. As detailed in this article(5 list of Onsen benefits and effects), Japanese Touji culture has been around four hundreds of years with various healing effects. As a side note, Touji is written in two Chinese characters(湯治), meaning to ‘heal with hot water.’
I think that the spa and the Japanese onsen have a lot in common.
The word “Shima” in our Shima Onsen means “forty-thousand.” In the original meaning, Shima Onsen is said to be an onsen with effects to heal forty-thousand diseases, so it may correctly apply to the definition of the spa.
About ‘Hot Spring’
Secondly, I’ll talk about the meaning of ‘hot spring.’
According to the English Wikipedia: “A hot spring is a spring produced by the emergence of geothermally heated groundwater that rises from the Earth’s crust.”
(Dec. 6, 2019, 12:29 UTC+9). In Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_spring
However, there seems to be no clear definition of the water temperature as to whether it can be called a “hot” spring or not, while it always is for the Japanese onsen. It is safe to say that the spring water that has been warmed to some extent by geothermal heat can be called a hot spring.
Lastly, I’ll talk about the meaning of ‘Japanese onsen.’
The term ‘onsen’ has various meanings.
The word can refer to the onsen water itself, the (onsen) bath and the (onsen) area, and so on.
The onsen meaning as the onsen water is well-defined in Japan under the onsen law.
The onsen in Japan should meet the regulation set by the law requiring that either the temperature of the water be 25 degrees Celsius or above, or the water has a specified amount of minerals included.
I must mention that our Shima Onsen satisfies the conditions of the onsen law entirely in both terms of the temperature and the minerals.
Compared to the definition of ‘spa’ mentioned earlier, it is not necessarily a natural hot spring; it can also be used as an aesthetic salon amenity for beauty. I think that ‘spa’ and ‘onsen’ are slightly different in their definitions.
The definition of ‘hot spring’ and ‘onsen’ are slightly different as well. The onsen can still be classified as onsen even if the temperature of the water is low, as long as it contains minerals, the rules of which are less strict, compared to the regulation of hot spring.
As I write about the differences between ‘spa,’ ‘hot spring,’ and ‘onsen,’ I think all three are very similar, but not the same.
So, I will continue to use the word “Onsen” mainly rather than the other related terms from the perspective of the distinctive Japanese culture.
Since our Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan is a tattoo-friendly onsen ryokan, people with tattoos can bathe in all of the available onsens without hindrance.
However, many Japanese onsen spots and bathhouses still forbid entry to those with tattoos, and there are not so many tattoo-friendly onsens.
Will the time come for more and more onsens to cater to people with ink, and will the phrase “tattoo-friendly onsen” itself become obsolete?
In Japan, there is still a stigma attached to those with tattoos because many criminals and anti-social forces had tattoos in the past. As is seen in old Japanese traditional customs, there is an old-age association of people with ink with criminals and anti-social groups.
I wrote about it in my previous article( Are people with tattoos allowed in onsen? ), so I’d be happy if you referred to it.
On the other hand, Japanese bathing culture has long been established where you can take a large bath with others at an onsen or a bathhouse.
In Japan, the word “hadaka-no-tsukiai,” or “naked relationship” in English, means being able to talk and have a close relationship with others at an onsen or a bathhouse. The bath is a place to have excellent communication and functions as a semipublic place.
Because of tattoos marking nefarious elements in Japanese society, they aren’t suitable for these bathhouses as they cannot cater to people with tattoos. For that reason, a large number of onsen ryokans, day-trip onsen facilities, and bathhouses typically have a “no tattoos allowed” policy.
Unfortunately, as of 2019, the number of tattoo-friendly onsens is still limited.
However, times are changing significantly.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the number of travellers visiting Japan from other countries has increased rapidly due to the effects of our national policies. Previously, the number was just under five million a year, but now it is over thirty million annually and has been continuing to rise.
Their purposes for travelling Japan are varied, such as Japanese food, visiting scenic spots, shopping, etc. Bathing in an onsen is also one of the biggest reasons.
Inevitably, the “no tattoos allowed” policy becomes a significant problem for travellers.
So, people discuss it on forums of travel-related websites, such as Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. “I have tattoos, but can I still enjoy Japanese onsen?” and so on.
The Rugby World Cup was held in Japan this year (2019) and was the first Asian nation ever to hold the World Cup. A lot of leading rugby teams have many athletes who have tattoos as a part of their traditional culture, so the organisation that supervised the competition encouraged the athletes to hide their tattoos in public places. It gained prominent attention as a symbol of cultural conflict. You can find many related articles when you search the phrase “rugby tattoo.”
Many athletes have tattoos, not only rugby players but also other sports players. In preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, which will be held next year (2020), the Japanese government is trying to increase the number of foreign tourists as a significant national policy. We must solve the tattoo problem in onsens urgently.
Unlike the time when most of the onsen spots accommodated mainly Japanese people, now it is time for onsens to relax their policies regarding their clients’ ink to adapt more onsen lovers coming in from all around the globe to seek Japanese onsens.
Otherwise, I am genuinely concerned that our world-famous Japanese onsen culture will close its doors to the world, and only Japanese people will be able to enjoy it.
According to a survey conducted in 2015 by the Japan Tourism Agency, only 30% of onsens and bathhouse facilities were unconditionally tattoo-friendly. I heard that the number has been improving these days.
I strongly hope that “tattoo-friendly onsens” will become the norm in the next few years and this phrase will become obsolete.
Lastly, I will introduce tattoo-friendly onsen ryokans, and so on.
Goal of this WEB is to have the Shima Onsen become known to travellers around the world, and to communicate specific information and the latest news about travel to Shima Onsen.
We will also deliver detailed information which is relevant particularly to residents of Shima Onsen.
Since anyone can enjoy a private onsen or a room with a private open-air bath（Rotenburo) without any restrictions or concerns, everyone from anywhere around the world can be satisfied with them.
Kashiwaya Ryokan is tattoo-friendly, so anyone can enjoy and participate. But if people would prefer some privacy, they can hire a private onsen or a room with a private open-air bath to further enjoy the experience.
Onsens are an integral part of Japanese culture, therefore, visiting and experiencing an onsen is a big purpose in coming to Japan for many people.
However, there are many different types of baths with different purposes and restrictions, so it may be confusing for tourists who are not used to our customs and culture.
Today, I will talk about all different types of onsen.
Today, we will be introducing the etiquette of visiting hot springs(Onsen) in Japan.
It is no exaggeration to say that Japan is known as the World No.1 hot spring country.
There are 2983 Onsen (hot spring) towns, and there are 27297 hot spring locations all over Japan.
There is a description about hot springs in Japan’s oldest history book, ‘Kojiki’, that was compiled in 700 A.D. From this we can tell that hot spring culture has been with Japanese people for a long time.
In the long history of Onsen, Japan’s own hot spring culture has changed, and in that culture, there are manners and etiquette that people follow to try not to cause any troubles for other hot spring users.
Let’s see the manners and etiquette of using hot springs in Japan with a little bit of jokes then!
So many people are questioning whether they can go to hot springs in Japan if they have a tattoo.
We, ‘Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan’, are tattoo friendly. Therefore, anyone with or without tattoos can enjoy all of our hot springs. However, there can be no doubt that many hot spring places do not accept people with tattoos.
Please read the article ‘hot spring and tattoo’ for the further details.
Visitors from Japan come looking for different things, from authentic Japanese food, cultural experiences, and shopping. Japanese hot springs, or onsen, are yet another popular activity for international tourists.
Though many tourists are interested in onsen, some are from countries that don’t have communal bathing customs. For these visitors, it may take a lot of courage to get naked and take a bath with your friends, let alone complete strangers!
Add to that the fact that most onsen aren’t tattoo friendly, and there are even more visitors who miss out on the opportunity to experience Japanese onsen. The reality is, there are historical reasons that people with tattoos have been banned from onsen in Japan. Despite the influx of international guests who have tattoos, many onsen still maintain this antiquated policy.
As you can see, this all makes for a terrible situation. Many visitors to Japan wish to experience Japan’s famed onsen, but they can’t because of superficial cultural problems. This is truly a shame.
We at Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan have a strong reputation on sites such as Trip Advisor. This is due to our dedication to making onsen accessible to all guests. We have had a “Tattoo Friendly” policy for many years, and we have several private onsen baths that are free for guests to use: three private baths open to all guests, and 2 rooms that include their own private bath.
Many of our guests post photos on Instagram from our private onsen as well. Search #privateonsen and #kashiwayaryokan to see what we have to offer here!
Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan has begun a special deal just for ALT’s currently residing in Japan. With this special plan, you can save up to (Y)2,000 per guest, and you can use the discount as long as there is at least one ALT in your party! Feel free to bring along your visiting family and friends to experience traditional Japanese lodgings.
We at Kashiwaya Ryokan made this plan for two reasons. First we think it would be a shame if the ALT’s in our community and throughout Japan lived here without experiencing a traditional onsen ryokan, an important part of Japanese culture. Second, we guarantee the highest service so that you can thoroughly enjoy your stay in hopes that whenever you return home, whether to visit or to move back, you might share your experience with your friends and family.
Shima Onsen was once a popular place to come for the curative properties of its waters. Extended stays in onsen towns for health and rehabilitation (“toji” in Japanese) was the original purposes of hot springs in Japan. As such, this is an important part of onsen culture. The town is surrounded by natural beauty and is much the same as it was 50 years ago, giving this onsen resort a nostalgic “old Japan” feel.
Shima Onsen boasts the oldest onsen ryokan in Japan and the onsen temple Yakushido, both of which still stand today, not to mention the stunning natural beauty of the area. The vibrant blue of the rivers and lakes in the area are lovingly called “Shima Blue,” and if you’re lucky you might run into a wild Japanese serow (goat-antelope) or monkey.
Toji — Onsen Travel for Health (Health Benefits of Onsen)
Toji refers to a relatively long stay (usually more than one week) at an onsen for the purpose of medical treatment or recuperation. There are records of this type of medical treatment dating as far back as the Kamakura Period (12th-14th centuries), and they say that there are various health benefits to bathing in onsen waters.
These are just a few of the reasons for Kashiwaya Ryokan’s popularity.
• 3 free private onsen baths and 2 rooms with private open-air baths for guests who prefer privacy but still want to enjoy the hot spring water
• Traditional kaiseki meals
• Guests with tattoos are welcome in all onsen baths
• Since we are a smaller ryokan with only 15 rooms, large groups don’t stay here, meaning it’s always quiet, peaceful, and relaxing
• All rooms are Japanese style rooms with tatami and futon to sleep on, allowing our international guests to enjoy an authentic Japanese experience
We hope you’ll take advantage of this unique opportunity to stay at Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan. We’re looking forward to seeing you soon!
Shima Onsen and the Kanto Region are full of fantastic spots for seeing the gorgeous autumn leaves. Though Tokyo is known as a bustling metropolis, there are actually many areas of Kanto that are filled with natural beauty.
The autumn foliage in Kanto is best seen between September and December, and we believe this is the next best season to visit Japan after the spring cherry blossom season. Now, allow us to introduce some of the best places to visit in Kanto during the fall. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy one of the most appealing aspects of Japan’s natural beauty!
Kanto’s Top 10 Locations for Fall Foliage
Let’s get right into it and start with our ranking of the 10 best places to see autumn leaves in Kanto.
#1: Shima Onsen / Shima River / Okushima Lake (Gunma Prefecture)
You’ll have to forgive us for putting Shima Onsen in the top spot. This is of course where our very own Kashiwaya Ryokan is located, but it isn’t an exaggeration to say that Shima Onsen is one of the best spots in Kanto for enjoying the gorgeous hues of fall. After all, we are located right in Joshin’etsu-kogen National Park.