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The rules of Japanese hot springs

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (

Japan is located squarely astride the infamous "ring of fire" and is one of the world's most geologically active zones. As such, it is home to many of the world's natural hot springs. In fact, Japan is home to more than 25,000 natural hot springs spread across 3,000 resorts.

KYOTO, JAPAN (Catholic Online) - Around Kyoto, the former imperial capitol, there are located about one dozen hot springs. The Japanese call them "onsen". 

Typically, the resorts are luxurious affairs, neat and well kept. They often feature stunning views of the surrounding mountains, and provide a perfect spot for natural relaxation.

The springs are rich in mineral waters, and have been long regarded for their medicinal qualities. The use of baths for medical treatment isn't new. Bathing has been used since ancient time as a means of treating various afflictions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, bathing has even been shows to have actual curative effects that are documented by peer-reviewed medical journals. 

Most springs have three elements which provide curative effects. Sulfur and magnesium can benefit the skin, reduce inflammation and pain, and boost the immune system. Of course, the chief element in these cures simply appears to be heat and relaxation. All of the Onsen are between a relatively cool 77 degrees Fahrenheit, to actual boiling! 

Bathing in the spas does require knowledge of local etiquette. Visitors are well served by keeping these rules in mind.

1. The water must stay clean! This means a shower before stepping in.

2. No swimsuits! Bathers bathe just as they would at home - in the nude. Separate facilities serve men and women. Towels are allowed outside, but may not touch the water in the tub. 

3. Tattoos have a poor reputation in Japan as signifying ties with criminal gangs. In many places, people with tattoos are not allowed into the tubs. 

4. Despite the beautiful scenery frequently visible from the tubs, no photography is allowed. 

5. Visitors are encouraged to drink water to stay hydrated during their bath, but no alcohol is allowed. 


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