If you’re in Japan and you’re looking for a way to rejuvenate and relax yourself, the best way is to experience the magic of onsens! Not only do they have many physical health benefits, but I also went through an internal healing when I tried it! So, besides feeling renewed and purified when coming out of the baths, you feel like you have left all the stress of the world behind you. Are you curious yet about all the many healing benefits of Japanese onsen baths?
What is an onsen?
What is an onsen, you may ask? It is the Japanese word for hot spring! Basically, it’s a natural spring that contains lots of minerals.
Actually, they are many natural springs in Japan because of their high number of volcanoes.
However, not just anyone can claim to having an onsen. In Japan, there are regulations for a hot spring to be recognized as an onsen. The spring water must contain at least one of the 19 minerals accepted by the law imposed in 1948 and be at least 25 degrees Celsius.
These minerals can be sulfur, iron or magnesium. They can help with decreasing pains in the body, having healthier skin or increasing your immune system.
Usually, it’s set in a beautiful and relaxing environment. Some of them are outside, those are called a Rotenburo and if you’re lucky, it’s surrounded by nature, like the mountains!
Certain locations in Japan are richer in some of these minerals compared to others. Depending on what people want to heal, they will be drawn to specific onsens that contain more of the minerals that are healing for their case. But in general, all onsens will bring a huge list of healing benefits. Keep on reading to discover some of them!
What are the health benefits of Japanese onsen baths?
There are so many people who come to these places to heal their bodies and minds. Traditionally, “Toji” was when people came for a longer period of time to heal chronic illnesses or other diseases. They would not only bathe in the onsen but they would also drink the water from the spring.
Just so you know though, when you go into an onsen bath, do not drink the water of the bath. Sometimes, they have a special place where it is specified that you can drink the water but it’s never in the baths where you bathe.
But no need to stay so long, you will notice right away some of these following benefits after a 10-minute session!
Health benefits for the body
As soon as you dip into the water, you will notice all the stress that you have accumulated just leaving your body. It feels amazing! Even if you are quite tense, when going into the onsen, your body will automatically feel relaxed as the Doctor Nakamura explained “They’re very hot so it expands your blood vessels and you can relax.”
Here are some of the health benefits of an onsen, it helps with:
- Aches and pains
- blood circulation
- Muscle soreness or stiffness
- Low back pain
- Digestive issues
- Skin wound healing
Health benefits for the mind
The onsen is a place to take time and give yourself some love! It’s helps with your mental wellbeing by reducing your stress, as well as sleeping issues that can be linked to it. It also helps with recovering from exhaustion!
Though, in my case, I didn’t feel this way the very first time I went in an onsen. I didn’t let myself really enjoy the moment. I actually stayed a very short time and left. This was actually how I healed more than just my body, but also my mindset!!! But more on that later 😉
If you’re looking for ways to calm down your mind, you might want to learn how to do zazen meditation , a japanese zen practice?
Being naked is awesome
I had been dreaming to come to Japan since I was a young teenager and I started reading mangas. When I first saw these characters relaxing in hot water surrounded by nature, I just knew that that was something I absolutely wanted to try one day. Came the time to actually doing it, well…I had to face something truly important, accepting my own body!!! Yikes!
You see the problem was that you had to go in there completely naked. Yup, no bathing suits allowed…Though, you do get to have a tiny towel…
While organizing my trip, I had planned on going to a ryokan (traditional Japanese home) that had an onsen. I didn’t realize that depending on where you’re at, that it’s common to have an onsen in your hotel. Thankfully, before going to the ryokan, there were several hotels that I went to that also had one. So, I got the practice before getting to the best one!
Since I have been, for a while now, on a quest to come out of my comfort zone for things that I dream of doing but feel to scared to do, this was a perfect opportunity!
Let’s start from the beginning…
In my room, I found a yukata, a traditional cotton japanese robe, that I would wear to go from my room to the onsen baths.
I changed into it, tied the obi (cotton belt) around my waist and took a deep breath before leaving my room. While walking to the baths, I felt incredibly nervous. It was an experience that I really wanted to try, but at the same time, I was scared to expose myself. Where I come from, even at the swimming pool you have changing rooms, so nobody actually gets completely naked in front of anyone.
I kept thinking, “what if everyone is super fit and have perfect bodies, then they will look at me” and I worried “would they judge me?” Or would I look at them and feel inadequate? Would I have too much of this and not enough of that?
I was given a password to enter the women’s side. I stepped foot into the changing room. There were baskets where I could put my clothes in them. The place was beautiful and spacious with wooden floors.
This was where the hard part started, getting naked in front of everyone!!!
That day, I felt vulnerable. I had to get undressed and I was trying to hide myself at the same time, which didn’t make any sense, since I would have to walk in front of them anyway afterwards. All the women there would simply walk around without looking uncomfortable, they wouldn’t stare at anyone, they just acted as if everyone was dressed like normally. I definitely think that I was the only one who was embarrassed there.
Next, you take the tiny little towel and you go to the next room where there are the onsen baths. Naturally, while all the women just put the towel on their heads or held it, I was using it to desperately try to hide as much as possible the intimate parts of my body, with bright red cheeks. As you can imagine, I was just drawing more attention by acting so weird…
Before you actually can get into the baths though, there is an area with showerheads, wooden buckets that you can sit on and all the soap and shampoo that you need. It’s required to clean yourself before entering the baths. These are also out in the open. Normally, you are supposed to take your time with this part, but I was trying to be as quick as possible so I could go hide in the water of the baths. Buuuut, I totally underestimated the temperature of the water.
Hot, hot, hot!!!
When I first put my foot in the water, wow!!! I was used to hot baths at home but this was definitely warmer than what I was used to. I held on to the thought “I am the mother of dragons!” …well at least fans of Game of Thrones will get me 😉
I put my small towel on my head like everyone else was doing.
Normally, when water is this hot, I would gradually try to go into it. But this time, I went straight in. The more women were coming in, the more uncomfortable I felt and tried to hide my body. I had all these thoughts that brought me down about how Japanese women seem so fit and I really should be exercising more. Just so you know, this seemed to be lasting forever, at least in my mind, but I was actually in there for a very short moment.
Everyone around me not only seemed like they couldn’t care less that everybody else was naked, but you could see on their faces that they were truly in a peaceful state of bliss!!! How were they doing that?!!!
So many questions
I was so much out my comfort zone that I ended up leaving quickly. When I came back to the room, I had to wait in front of the door, because my husband had the key. Could this evening get any more disappointing?!
This left me time to think…something that I really wanted to try for a long time and I wouldn’t get this opportunity whenever I wanted, was escaping me! Why would I give away my happy moment like that away so easily? For what?
Nobody cared. Everyone was taking some self-care time to relax their minds and heal their bodies. All I was thinking about was “Am I inadequate?”. This made me feel sad and completely the opposite of what I was looking forward to. But I also wanted the benefits of the warm onsen baths!!!
When I discovered in my next hotel that there was an onsen and since I was staying a couple of nights there, it became my mission to get past my insecurities and comfort zone!!!
This time when I went in there, I forced myself to stay longer. When the water was getting too hot for me, I would go into the outside onsen, that was a little cooler. An extra step for success! Walking a further distance completely naked! After staying a few extra minutes in the water, I noticed that my body was relaxing and I was thinking much less. Ahhh, how amazing it feels to sense all of your muscles letting go of all those tensions. What was I just thinking about? Oh, it must not have been really important, I guess. This water feels so gooooood…
If you don’t succeed, try, try again!
Before and after visiting around the town, I wanted to go back to the onsen bath. Every time, I went, I stayed a little longer, I became a bit more comfortable. I started focusing more on how wonderful I felt in there and less about comparing myself! My wellbeing went up and my negative thoughts started going out the window.
I could even stay in the shower longer and go sit by the cold bath to pour cool water on myself to go back into the baths a few minutes later. Baby steps, that’s the secret to success!
I still preferred going at hours when it was less crowded, but I ended up truly enjoying myself and absolutely loving onsen baths!!!
By exposing myself several times over a short period of time to this very uncomfortable situation with the reward of relaxation, a deep healing with my body image happened!
Our bodies are our temple. Instead of thinking my legs aren’t toned enough, my eyes are too wide, my stomach is too big. Being grateful for what each part gives us, every single day, can also change our perspective. Change your mindset by switching your thoughts around. For example, with these issues, let’s start to appreciate that our legs can bring us wherever we want to go. That our amazing eyes can see all the beauty around us. That our stomach can digest food and bring us all the nutrients we need to survive!
Let’s focus on showing more love for ourselves and we can do that by starting a weekly ritual by making our very own healing onsen bath at home!
How to make an onsen bath in your home?
So, you can’t go to Japan yet, but you would like to enjoy the healing benefits of the onsen bath? Follow the next tips to make your own, right in your home!
Before you turn on the water to fill up your bathtub, you will need to take a shower! Yes, it’s not a bath to clean yourself but to relax in, so you don’t want any “dirt” going into your water. Tie your hair up, so you don’t have any hairs floating around in the bath either.
Drink lots of water before getting into your bath, because of the dehydrating effects it can have.
Next, you will turn on some hot water (don’t burn yourself either!) and pour some baths salts in it. No need to invest in some expensive salts, you can simply put some Epsom salt with some baking soda!
When you lay in your relaxing bath, focus on the present moment. Feel every muscle in your body just relax. Focus on your deep and slow belly breaths and enjoy the bliss! Take advantage of this meditation to release not only physical tension, but mental too.
Since you were clean before entering your bath, when you are finished, you don’t need to rinse yourself. In that way, you will keep more minerals on the skin. Finish by drying yourself with your towel.
Now, you can grab your yukata (Japanese cotton robe) or your favorite bathrobe, sit on a chair with a nice cup of japanese green tea and continue to relax. If you are bathing during the day, you might want to try some sencha or if you want something extra special some matcha tea. On the other hand, if it is the evening, you can try to some kukicha or hojicha to not keep yourself awake at night.
When I am finished with a hot bath, I usually like to put some oil on my skin so that it doesn’t get too dry. My favorite oil that I also use every day on my face is japanese Camelia oil.
Rules to follow when you go into an onsen in Japan
- In a lot of onsen baths, you can’t go in if you have tattoos. So, before going to one, ask if you can come in with a tattoo. If you speak or write Japanese or a friend of yours does, you can call or send them an email before. You can also check their website. If you can’t find a place, you can also reserve a private onsen to enjoy.
- When you arrive at the entrance of the onsen, pay attention to the signs. Most of the time, onsens aren’t mixed, so you have to take the right door. But don’t worry, the people who work at the hotel usually will explain to you how to find the correct one.
- As I said before you have to go in there completely naked. Yup sorry, remember, no bathing suits are allowed.
- You must wash yourself before going in! You will find an open room right before the baths with shower heads, with a stool where you can sit, with everything you need to wash your body and hair. Speaking of hair, it mustn’t be in contact with the water, so if they’re long, you will need to tie them up.
- You can’t drink any alcohol before going in. But you should hydrate yourself before and after going there.
- It’s not a swimming pool, so no splashing around or talking really loud. This is more of a sanctuary to reconnect to yourself. Imagine you’re in a sacred temple, cleansing your mind and body.
What to be careful about with onsen baths
I know that you are excited to go try the many benefits of an onsen, but before there are a few things to know about.
If you feel dizzy, come out slowly of the bath and go sit where it’s not so hot. For women, if you are on your period, you will avoid using the onsen bath or if you are pregant, check with your doctor before going.
Go enjoy the healing benefits of onsen baths!
I definitely feel grateful that I had the opportunity to go several times in an onsen during my one-month trip to Japan. Onsen baths have so many incredible healing benefits that I felt like on a cloud!
My body felt really good and my mind relaxed so much (after I got pass my insecurities…). It also gave me the possibility to work on my body image that can sometimes be so harmful for our well-being. I still catch myself comparing myself but less than before. More importantly, I feel more grateful for what I have!
If you ever go to Japan, I definitely advise you to try an onsen! Even if you don’t have any physical ailments to heal, or any body issues you want to work on, try it just for the amazing experience and relaxation it brings!
Have you ever tried an onsen? Did you love it or do you think it’s overrated? Leave your opinion in the comments!