Tag Archives: onsen

The Differences Between ‘Spa,’ ‘Hot Spring,’ and ‘Onsen’

Shima Onsen

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.’

About ‘Spa’

Foot Bath

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’

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.

About ‘Onsen’

private onsen
Kashiwaya’s private open-air onsen

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.

If you interested in Japanese style Onsen, Please click here
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Tattoo-Friendly Onsens: Will the Day Come When These Become the Norm in Japan?

Tattoo Friendly Onsen

Introduction

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?

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Kashiwaya Instagram
tattoo friendly onsen (Kashiwaya Instagram)

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.

Tattoo inhibit sign at bathhouse entrance

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.

open-air onsen
Kashiwaya’s Private Onsen

Lastly, I will introduce tattoo-friendly onsen ryokans, and so on.

Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan – tattoo friendly onsen Ryokan
tattoo-friendly.jp – A location finder for tattooed people
18 Soothing Tokyo Hot Springs that Accept Tattoos
50+ Tattoo Friendly Onsen In Japan – list of the tattoo friendly public baths

Private Onsen, room with an open-air bath / 6 different types of bath in Onsen Ryokan

PrivateOnsen
Our ‘Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan’ has three private onsen, all of which are open-air baths(Rotenburo), two rooms with their own private open-air onsen and large public inside onsen for both men and women.

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.

open-air onsen
Kashiwaya’s Private Onsen

Today, I will talk about all different types of onsen.

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How to Take an Onsen?|8 Rules & Manners of Japanese Onsen

Onsen rules

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!

Onsen etiquette and rules

Before that…
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.

Let’s see the manners and etiquette!

No swim suit

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Private Onsen Tsuki-no-yu Renovated !

Private Onsen Tsuki-no-yu
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!

Private Onsen Tsuki-no-yu

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Onsen Ryokan with Beds and Western Style Meals

western style single bed

Anyone who speaks English probably knows the proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In Japanese we also have a very similar saying: 郷に入れば郷に従え(go ni ireba go ni shitagae). It means that if you enter a foreign country or region, it is wise to follow the customs and ways there.
I believe that travelling is about not only seeing new sights, but also learning more about another country and culture.
However, during a long journey you will naturally miss the customs of your home country. We Japanese sometimes visit Japanese restaurants abroad. I think this is because many of us become homesick while travelling. Of course, I also believe it is a benefit for international travellers to step out of their comfort zone and learn about other cultures. That’s why I highly recommend staying at a Japanese ryokan.

Japanese style room and Washoku
Japanese style room and Washoku

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Winter in Japan: Open-air Onsen, Scenic Snowscapes, Skiing and More!

SnowInShimaOnsen

As we’ve written before on our blog (see links below), the Japanese take pride in the distinct charm of each of the four seasons.

The cherry blossoms of spring and the dazzling autumn leaves, the electrifying buzz of the cicadas in summer and the calm, sheer white snow of winter beckoning you to come play!

Hanami
Autumn Leaves

The winter season is upon us now, so you may be asking yourself: what is there to do here in Japan? Well, let us give you just a few ideas!

In winter, you can enjoy snowy landscapes stretching over a wide range in Japan, from Hokkaido in the far north to the more central Northern Kanto where Shima Onsen and our Kashiwaya Ryokan are located. Although it depends on the conditions in each region, generally the snow season is from December until March.

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Are people with tattoos allowed in onsen?

Kashiwaya Onsen

Yes, we are tattoo friendly onsen ryokan!

In Japan, people with tattoo are often rejected to take onsen. You must feel unreasonable in spite of taking all the trouble of visiting Japan to take onsen. Aren’t there any ways to take onsen even with tattoo?

In fact, at ryokan with private onsen and rooms with open bath, such as Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan, you can enjoy onsen in peace even with tattoo because there is no chance to have somebody sees your tattoo.

Differences in Perception of Tattoo in Japan and Abroad

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Onsen town near Tokyo even Japan enthusiasts admire

Description

When saying onsen resort, people tend to imagine it to have left far from towns such as Tokyo. Yet, actually, there are a lot of highly original onsen resort and onsen ryokan near Tokyo environs, too.
There are more and more visitors who stay based at Tokyo Metropolitan area and stay at onsen ryokan in short trip in one night and two days. Onsen resorts near Tokyo, including out Shima onsen, are perfect for such needs.

Shima Onsen Town

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A Ryokan outside Tokyo, but Close to Tokyo

Evening at Onsen Ryokan

Overview

There are also a lot of ryokan in Tokyo but most of them do not equipped with onsen and meals.

So, it is hard to experience all the essences of ryokan (Japanese atmosphere, onsen, washoku) there.

Thus, I recommend you to stay at least one night at onsen ryokan that is close to Tokyo.

I have listed up some recommended onsen resorts, where you can enjoy ryokan close to Tokyo.

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In Tokyo, there are a variety of accommodations from ultra-luxury hotels to capsule hotels.

The total number of rooms of accommodations is almost 150,000 rooms, combining hotels and ryokan.

In addition, construction and opening of new accommodations are coming up towards the Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo Shibuya night
Bright Lights, Big Tokyo

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