Onsens - hot springs


ONSEN (Hot Spring Spa)
An Onsen is a Hot spring where you bathe. The hot comes from volcanic rock and the springs are natural water flows either from underground or river water squeezed through lava rocks. Niseko is cold, the skiing is fantastic - and revelling in an onsen is a perfect potion to relieve the tiredness and aches of the day.

Remember what Grandma used to say - "cleanliness is next to godliness". Bathing in Hot springs has about a thousand years of history behind it, you'll realize this is a cultural as well as near religious experience. Relaxing in an Onsen with the sound of rushing water and steam all around is very calming, a worthwhile break from a crazy planet. If that seems excessive - think history - peasants working in farm fields or in menial labour, travellers or warriors, filthy from travel, going to an Onsen or bath-house to refresh. How you get clean, where you leave your shoes and clothes in a communal environment suddenly makes a lot more sense. If in doubt you can discreetly copy a local, but remember discreet, a naked Japanese is usually a very private person. Using an Onsen can be a daunting, challenging experience for non-Japanese. It is less daunting if you know a few pointers in advance.

A simple Guide 'How to Onsen'

This is a generic list of what to do, there are thousands of Onsens in Japan and the design, layout, facilities do vary.
  1. Pay your fare at reception, you will be given a small towel/ wash cloth and possibly key for a locker.
    If there are no lockers at your onsen, valuables can usually be left with reception for safe keeping.

  2. Shoe/ no shoe zones. This is really a soil/ no soil zone.

At the entrance to the room leading into the onsen - remove your shoes! Don't walk into the change area or other 'clean' areas with your shoes on. Also don't remove shoes/ walk around outside the change room with bare feet or socks on. You would be soiling the clean area when you walk into the change area. Put your shoes into the rack provided.
In the change areas there will typically be lockers or baskets where you should fold and place clothes. Resist the temptation to dump your clothes in any old open space.

  1. Cleanliness first, modesty next

You have to wash before you can go into the springs, Use the wash cloth provided to cover your private bits and go to the washing area. This is usually through another door and is typically a row of temperature controlled taps with soap, shampoo provided. Grab a plastic stool and basin from the stack, take a pew and start scrubbing - thoroughly, do use the towel to scrub your back. The tap - left and right adjusts the temperature, usually you depress the tap and this releases enough water to fill your basin. Once you are clean all over you are free to enjoy the hot springs. Don't bring soap into the springs, make sure you rinse any residual soap out of your towel as well.

  1. Getting Dry and other tips.

From here on the rest is up to you, you now have the basics.
Many purists will wash twice, a second time after they have entered the hot springs once. The first wash removes the soil, the hot springs opens and loosens the pores, the second wash is a sort of exfoliation.
How do I get dry with this tiny cloth? Simple, surface tension, wring it out as often as necessary, rub briskly. There is often an area between change and wash areas which is warm, free of steam and ideal to get dry in.
Nobody will blink if you bring a bath towel and put it in your basket, but do towel off most of the moisture before returning to the dry area where your clothes are. Some onsen also provide a bath towel, or have them as an extra.

Shampoo, if you are particular you can take your own.

Onsen Fee(adult/child)

Yen fee adult/child Location
Niseko Ikoino Mura 700 / 350 Near Annupuri ski hill and lift
Niseko Gosshiki 400 / 350 Chise or Annupuri ski lifts
Yukichichibu 500 / 300 Chise or Annupuri ski lifts
Koikawa Onsen 500 / 300 Near Annupuri lift
Makkari Onsen 400 / 200 Near Higashiyama ski lift
Kira-no-Yu 500 / 250 Higashiyama ski lift/ opposite Niseko Station.