An is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. A volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth. Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism.
Onsen come in many types and shapes, including and indoor baths. Baths may be either public run by a municipality or often run as part of a hotel, ryokan or .
Onsen are a central feature of Japanese tourism often found out in the countryside. They are a major tourist attraction drawing Japanese couples, families or company groups who want to get away from the hectic life of the city to relax. Japanese often talk of the virtues of for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of an onsen inn.
Japanese TV often features programs where the hosts visit a local onsen, interview , and try out some of the local delicacies.
The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or the kanji, (yu, meaning "hot water"). Sometimes the simpler hiragana character ゆ (yu) is used, to be understandable to younger children.
Traditionally, onsen were located outdoors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well. Onsen by definition use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs. Onsen should be differentiated from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water. Major onsen resort hotels often feature a wide variety of themed spa baths and artificial waterfalls in the bathing area .
Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. A particular onsen may feature several different baths, each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made with tile, acrylic glass or stainless steel.
Many bathers come for only an hour or so to soak in the waters. Food also plays an important part in the attraction of a particular inn. While other services like massages may be offered, the main reason most people visit the onsen is to enjoy the baths.
Traditionally, men and women bathed together at the onsen, as they did at the sentō, but single-sex bathing has steadily become the established custom since the opening of Japan to the West during the Meiji period. Mixed-sex bathing persists at some onsen in the rural areas of Japan, which usually also provide the option of separate "women-only" baths or different hours for the two sexes, although young children of either sex may be seen in both the men's and the women's baths.
People often travel to onsen with work colleagues, as the relaxed and open atmosphere helps to break down some of the hierarchical stiffness inherent in Japanese work life. However, most visitors to onsen are not work groups but friends, couples and families.
At an onsen, as at a sentō
, guests are expected to wash their bodies and rinse themselves thoroughly before entering the hot water. The indoor baths have faucets with removable shower heads and stools to sit on, for showering and shampooing. Entering the onsen while still dirty or with traces of soap on the body is considered unacceptable.
Soakers are not normally allowed to wear swimsuits in the baths. However, some modern onsen having more of a waterpark
atmosphere require their guests to wear a swimming suit in their mixed baths.
Onsen guests generally bring a small towel with them to use as a wash cloth. The towel can also provide a modicum of modesty
when walking between the washing area and the baths. Some onsen allow one to wear the towel into the baths, while others have posted signs prohibiting this, saying that it makes it harder to clean the bath. In this latter case, people normally set their towels off to the side of the water when enjoying the baths, or place their folded towels on top of their heads.
Onsen are generally considered a respite from the hectic pace of life and consequently they are usually fairly quiet. However, sometimes bathers will engage in conversation in this relaxed situation.
The volcanic nature provides plenty of springs. When the onsen's water contains distinctive minerals or chemicals, the onsen establishments display what type of onsen it is.
Some examples of types of onsen include:
In Japan, it is said onsen have various medical effects. Japanese people believe that a good soak in proper onsen heals aches, pains and diseases, and visit onsen to treat the illnesses, such as arthralgia, chronic skin diseases, diabetes, constipation, menstrual disorders and so on.
These medical benefits have given onsen a central role in balneotherapy which is called . Onsen Therapy is a comprehensive bathing treatment conducted to maintain health, normalize dysfunctions and prevent illness.
Although millions of Japanese bathe in onsen every year with few noticeable side effects, there has been concern that the warm wet conditions lead to the transmission of infections. Some concerns include:
- Athlete's foot fungal infection.
- The Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which lives in warm waters and soils worldwide and can cause meningitis. Several deaths have been attributed to this amoeba, which enters the brain through the nasal passages.
- Acanthamoeba, which can also spread through hot springs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Legionella bacteria, which have been documented to spread through hot springs.
- There is some suggestion that a bather's toe was infected with herpes simplex virus from a hot spring in Japan.
- There has been some concern that the temperature and mineral composition of natural hot spring water does not represent as much protection from infection as had been thought previously. There are viruses that have been collected from even very extreme environments in hot springs. For example, viruses were found in a hot spring in Pozzuoli, Italy, living in acidic water with a pH of 1.5, and temperatures of 87–93 °C (189–199 °F). These viruses were observed to infect cells in the laboratory.
Many onsen have posted notices for visitors, reminding anyone with open cuts, sores, or lesions to not bathe. This precaution limits the overall risk to bathers and the overall risk to individuals in good health is very slight. The case scenarios of herpetic and amoebic infections are remarkable not so much in that they occur, but rather that the affected persons are predominantly persons with reduced immune systems and likely skin lesions. (The herpetic infection cited above occurring on the foot of a diabetic individual is a good anecdotal representation.)
In recent years, there has been some controversy over non-ethnic Japanese and foreigners being prohibited entry to some hot springs. This issue was highlighted in February 2001, when Debito Arudou and two co-plaintiffs sued Yunohana Onsen in Otaru, Hokkaido, for refusing service to customers based on race. Yunohana Onsen lost the lawsuit in November 2002.
- Sōunkyo Onsen (層雲峡温泉), Hokkaidō
- Onneyu Onsen (温根湯温泉), Hokkaidō
- Jōzankei Onsen (定山渓温泉), Hokkaidō
- Noboribetsu, Hokkaidō
- Tōyako, Hokkaidō
- Futamata, Hokkaidō
- Yunokawa, Hokkaidō
- Nyūtō Onsen (乳頭温泉郷), Akita
- Asamushi Onsen (浅虫温泉), Aomori
- Sukayu, Aomori
- Getō Onsen (夏油温泉), Iwate
- Kindaichi Onsen, Iwate
- Hanamaki, Iwate
- Naruko, Miyagi
- Sakunami, Miyagi
- Zaō Onsen, Yamagata
- Akayu, Yamagata
- Ginzan Onsen (銀山温泉), Obanazawa, Yamagata
- Sabakoyu Onsen, Fukushima, the oldest community onsen in Japan
- Senami Onsen (瀬波温泉), Niigata
- Tsukioka Onsen (月岡温泉), Niigata
- Iwamuro, Niigata, famous for onsen since the Edo period
- Tsubame, Niigata
- Yuzawa, Niigata
- Shiobara Onsen (塩原温泉郷), Tochigi
- Kinugawa Onsen, Tochigi
- Akagi, Gunma
- Ikaho Onsen (伊香保温泉), Ikaho, Gunma
- Kusatsu hot springs (草津温泉), Gunma, one of the most famous onsen outside Japan
- Sawatari, Gunma
- Shima, Gunma
- Takaragawa, Gunma, one of the largest outdoor co-ed baths in Japan
- Hakone, Kanagawa, famous onsen resort town near Tokyo
- Tsurumaki Onsen (鶴巻温泉), Kanagawa
- Yugawara, Kanagawa
- Itō, Shizuoka
- Atami Onsen (熱海温泉), Atami, Shizuoka, major onsen resort town near Tokyo
- Hokkawa Onsen (北川温泉), Shizuoka
- Kanzanji Onsen (舘山寺温泉), Shizuoka
- Shuzenji Onsen (修善寺温泉), Shizuoka
- Sumatakyō Onsen (寸又峡温泉), Shizuoka
- Shimobe Onsen (下部温泉), Yamanashi
- Jigokudani, Nagano
- Kakeyu Onsen (下鹿教湯温泉), Nagano
- Suwa, Nagano
- Yudanaka Onsen (湯田中渋温泉郷), Nagano
- Gero, Gifu - famous for its free open bath on riverbank of Hida River
- Hirayu Onsen (平湯温泉), Takayama, Gifu
- Nagaragawa Onsen, Gifu, Gifu
- Unazuki Onsen (宇奈月温泉), Kurobe, Toyama
- Wakura Onsen (和倉温泉), Nanao, Ishikawa
- Awara Onsen (芦原温泉), Awara, Fukui
- Takarazuka, Hyōgo
- Kinosaki (城崎温泉), Hyōgo
- Yumura Onsen (湯村温泉), (Shin'onsen), Hyōgo
- Arima Onsen (有馬温泉), Kobe, Hyōgo, one of the most famous onsen outside Japan, in Kobe
- Nanki-Shirahama Onsen (南紀白浜温泉), Shirahama, Wakayama
- Nanki-Katsuura Onsen (南紀勝浦温泉), Nachikatsuura, Wakayama
- Yubara Onsen (湯原温泉), Okayama, one of the largest co-ed baths at the foot of Yubara dam
- Misasa Onsen (三朝温泉), Misasa, Tottori
- Kaike Onsen (皆生温泉), Yonago, Tottori
- Dōgo Onsen (道後温泉), Ehime
- Tara, Saga
- Beppu Onsen (別府温泉), Beppu, Ōita, famous for its multi-coloured baths
- Yufuin, Oita, one of the most famous onsen outside Japan
- Nuruyu, Kumamoto
- Kumamoto, Kumamoto
- Aso, Kumamoto, a famous Onsen area alongside Mount Aso, an active volcano
- Ibusuki, Kagoshima
- Shimabara, Nagasaki
See also 日本の温泉地一覧, 日本の温泉画像一覧.
References and notes
- Hotta, Anne, and Yoko Ishiguro. A Guide to Japanese Hot Springs. New York: Kodansha America, 1986. ISBN 0870117203.
- Fujinami, Kōichi. Hot Springs in Japan. Tokyo: Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways; Maruzen Company, Ltd., 1936.
- Neff, Robert. Japan's Hidden Hot Springs. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1995. ISBN 0804819491.
- Seki, Akihiko, and Elizabeth Heilman Brooke. The Japanese Spa: A Guide to Japan's Finest Ryokan and Onsen. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2005. ISBN 080483671X. Reprinted as Ryokan: Japan's Finest Spas and Inns, 2007. ISBN 0804838399.