An onsen (おんせん) is a hot spring bath, meaning that the hot water comes from a heated spring. Traditionally, onsens were bathing facilities where people gathered to get clean. Nowadays, people have the convenience of having a bathtub at home, so getting clean isn’t the main reason why people go to the onsen. Onsen resorts, especially the expensive ones, are places people go to relax.
Before people enter the onsen, they are required to scrub themselves clean. Since onsens are communal places, they can be a breeding ground for nasty infections. Visitors who have open sores or legions on their skin may be asked to leave. Tests on hot springs have shown that several different types of amoebic bacteria may lurk in the waters, including one that may cause meningitis. Before, people wrongly assumed that the temperature of the water and the mineral content of the springs were excellent sources of killing bacteria. My best advice is to go to reputable onsens that have sanitary regulations, and to sit in places that are covered with towels.
While some people go to the onsen to relax, others go for health reasons. Some people say that regularly visiting an onsen may reduce constipation and lessen the effects of arthritis. There’s this special service called おんせんりょうほう or onsen therapy. Part of this therapy may include a massage using the natural minerals of the hot springs. Some of the minerals include iron, sulphur, and salt.
It’s true that an onsen is a public place, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is welcome. Some small onsen places absolutely abhor visitors with tattoos. In the past, tattoos were associated with gangs. This belief still persists in some rural places. A visitor may be turned away for this reason. Other than that, I doubt anyone will have any problems getting access to an onsen. Oh, and by the way, just because an onsen is “public” doesn’t mean it’s free. There’s an entrance fee you pay up front, but the onsen experience is worth it!
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