Wellbeing 101: Onsen

Here Poppy takes a closer look at Japan’s answer to thermal hot springs. 

Bathing and hydrotherapy are an intrinsic part of health and wellness In Japan and onsen is Japan’s answer to thermal hot springs. Translating as the ‘hot’ ‘source’, onsen traditionally tap into the island’s natural volcanic activity. Later evolving into communal bathhouses, where for several thousands of years many households washed. 

Japan is a country of deep traditions and onsen remains a valuable healing activity in Japanese culture today.

There are several requirements to whether a bathhouse or spring can be called an ‘onsen’. In particular the temperature must be a minimum of 25 degrees and with a specific mineral content.

The natural mineral waters heated by the earth are believed to have many remedial qualities and people travel far to gain access to some of the most revered onsen spots. This must not be confused with the sento bathhouses, which are also communal bath houses but the water does not originate from a thermal spring. Such bathhouses became common in less volcanic and highly populated regions and cities remaining popular across Japan today.

Who Is An Onsen For?

Onsen are for everyone and traditionally the whole community would share the local onsen. It is only in recent years that bathrooms and showers are features of modern homes. 

What Happens In An Onsen?

Divided into two genders, female and male, children under the age of 7 are to accompany their guardian in either. Once inside, visitors change out of their clothes into just a towel, nudity is required in the baths and the etiquette requires that one must never put their head under the water. The second room is a communal washroom, to clean your hair and body. It is only once you have showered that you are allowed into the onsen itself. 

Benefits Of An Onsen?

Whilst surrounded by all ages, body shapes and sizes in a safe environment, an onsen can be a very healing experience for the mind and your relationship with your body. It is a loving and ritualistic act to enjoy an onsen, to gather communally to nourish the body and spend time relaxing in the thermal waters really makes this experience truly special. 

For the bath lovers out there the relaxing qualities of bathing goes without saying, but not only is regularly enjoying an onsen restorative, several therapeutic effects, akin to moderate exercise have been proven. This includes an increase in circulation and a reduction in blood pressure and bodily inflammation. It is no wonder this ritual has been enjoyed by people of all ages for millenia.

The heat and mineral content of onsen water is the more valued aspect of a traditional onsen. The naturally occurring sulphur, iron and magnesium helps to reduce aches and pains in the body, particularly anything related to joints and connective tissue. Energy levels can be improved with regular relaxation in an onsen, this in turn can help aid digestive issues and fatigue and anxiety.

Poppy Roy

The work of writer, editor and creative Poppy Roy reflects her compassion and desire to share powerful modalities, for both collective and personal healing.

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