How to Use a Japanese Onsen
Japan has a unique culture and heritage. Whether you are learning Japanese or heading to Japan for a vacation, there are lots of experiences to try as a visitor. One of these is the onsen or bathing in natural springs. Here’s how to bathe Japanese-style.
Find Your Onsen
An onsen is a natural hot spring with water temperatures at 25 degrees Celsius or above. They have at least one of 19 defined minerals within the water. There are over 2,300 onsen all over Japan. Some are within resorts and hotels, whereas others are located within natural spring areas. There are many places to choose from and with a little research, you’ll find one suitable. Do check the male and female opening hours, as some onsen have separate times for men and women.
Understand the Culture
In Japan, an onsen is taken completely nude. This is part of the heritage of the country and has been in existence since the eighth century. It is a great way to get an insight into Japanese culture. Do some research before you go to understand how the onsen operate, as many do not speak English. That’s also a good reason for taking the time to learn Japanese online.
Learn the Etiquette
Japanese onsen have several rules and traditions. Understanding them will help you have a positive experience and avoid offending anyone. When you go to the onsen changing room, look for the blue kanji sign for men or the red one for women. You will need to undress completely and put your belongings in a locker or basket. If you have soap and toiletries, take them with you to the next stage.
In the shower area, find a place by the showers. You will be given a plastic stool and a bowl. It is considered bad manners to sit where someone else has left their belongings, even if they are not there. You’ll need to wash and ensure you are thoroughly clean before heading to the bath area itself. Make sure you tidy after yourself and wash down the stool. Tattoos are frowned upon in Japan, as they are connected with gangs and crime. Some people with large tattoos may be refused entry to an onsen. An alternative is to find an inn with a kashikiriburo, or private bath, where you can bathe and not offend anyone with your tattoos.
Get Into the Onsen
One of the most important things to remember is that the water temperature in an Onsen is hot and can be up to 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Some places have several baths where the temperature varies so you can start with a cooler one. Be careful when getting into the bath itself as it is hot, so take it slowly. Do not jump into the onsen, splash others or swim — this is taboo. You will have been given a (very small) towel in the changing area. This must be kept out of the water. Some people fold and place the towel on their heads to keep cool. If the towel slips into the water, wring it outside the bath. Do not put your face in the water. The heat and some minerals in the water could be harmful if they get in your eyes. Talking loudly is not acceptable in an onsen, so if you plan to practice some Japanese words, be aware that most people will appreciate a greeting but not a long conversation in the bath. If they speak to you, then you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to speak some Japanese.
When you have finished in the onsen, wipe away any excess water or sweat as best you can with that small towel before going back in the changing area. Once you have dressed, you may find some onsen have areas where you can relax with a drink to complete your experience.
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Mention “wrestling” and “Japan” and many people will think of sumo. However, the country is also crazy for professional wrestling, the strange mix of sport and entertainment that millions enjoy.
What to Watch
Pro wrestling is one of the most versatile forms of entertainment, and no matter your interest you may find something in Japan that’s to your taste. If you like the combat of mixed martial arts — but with a guarantee of excitement — watch the Hard Hit promotion. If you like gymnastics, try the high-flying world of Dragon Gate. If spectacular stunt shows are to your taste — and you aren’t put off by a violent display — then Big Japan Pro Wrestling could be for you. Fans of physical comedy should take a look at the Dramatic Dream Team promotion. And if you want everything together in one package, New Japan Pro Wrestling is the major leagues where you’ll see some of the best in the world at performing this athletic drama.
Where to Watch
While most towns and cities get touring shows, and a few even have their own promotions, Tokyo is truly wrestling central. Korakuen Hall in Suidobashi is the home of wrestling, with shows almost every night from different promotions. You can buy tickets in advance from the fifth-floor box office or get them on the day of the show at a ground floor window. While some shows sell out, you can always queue for standing room tickets on the day.
Right next door, the Tokyo Dome hosts an extravaganza on January 4 every year named Wrestle Kingdom: In 2018, an estimated 2,000 Westerners made the voyage to see the event in person.
Other venues hosting big shows include Ryogoku Kokugikan (where sumo tournaments also take place) and Budokan Hall. For a more intimate experience, check out Shink-Kiba 1st Ring in Koto or Shinjuku Face in the Humax Pavilion Shinjuku building, both of which are used by smaller promotions.
What to Expect
Crowds at Japanese venues vary, but in some cases, they’ll be quieter than you expect because they are paying close attention to the action. In other cases, they’ll cheer the heroes, boo the villains and get caught up in the drama of the performance. Shows are often convenient to attend, usually starting around 6:30 p.m. and finishing by 9:00-9:30 p.m., giving you time to check out the local nightlife afterward. Most venues let you bring your own food and drink, while some sell beer and snacks.
Pro wrestling is known as “Puroresu,” which is simply a shortened version of the Japanese pronunciation of the English term “professional wrestling.” Shows featuring an all-female lineup are known as “joshi” events, short for “joshi puroresu” (or woman pro wrestling.)
When buying tickets, you’ll normally want to ask for a “shiteiseki,” which means “reserved seat.” This means you get a specific seat and don’t need to worry about working out where you can and can’t sit. If you have trouble finding your seat, you can show an attendant or another spectator your ticket and ask “doku desu ka,” which means “where is this [seat]?”
Most venues are laid out with the seating blocks listed as north, south, east and west. While the signs for these are usually listed in English, the tickets themselves may only use the kanji characters, so they are worth learning.
While watching a match, you’ll often hear the ring announcer say a phrase like “go-bun” or “ju-bun,” which means that five minutes or 10 minutes, respectively, have gone by in the match. (Matches usually have a 30-minute limit, but it can be 60 minutes for a championship bout.) When wrestlers fight outside the ring, they have a count of 20 to get back in, though this is usually made in English.
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