Overview of Using a Sento or an Onsen During your Internship in Japan
A simple pleasure you can’t miss!
During the winter months of your internship in Japan, you might be finding yourself needing some refuge from the cold, and there’s no better way of doing that than by visiting a Japanese bathhouse after work!
What is a Japanese bathhouse? Otherwise known as a sento or an onsen, they’re essentially a public bathhouse that is separated by gender, usually used by locals as a way to relax after a hard day’s work. A sento uses water that is collected from the tap, and an onsen is water that is heated geothermically, usually by a volcanic mountain, and contains various minerals. The attractions in these places vary, but they normally include showers, hot baths, salt baths, saunas, and outdoor baths (you’ll still be in an enclosed space, don’t worry about people peeping in).
In order to enter a sento/onsen, you need to take off your shoes at the entranceway, and put them in a shoe locker. You might have to put in a 100 yen coin to lock them up, but don't worry! You get that money back once you leave, and you get your 100 yen coin back when you put your belongings away, too. After getting used to walking around in public with only your socks, you pay a fee of about 400-1000 yen to fully enter the building. From the machine, you can even rent a towel for around 200 yen if you do not have your own. The prices vary depending on the establishment and the time you go.
WARNING - Tattoos are generally not permitted in the baths.
If you have a smaller, more inconspicuous tattoo, you’ll be able to cover it up with some waterproof plaster or a small bandage. In fact, if you let staff know about a small tattoo, they might even give you a sticker or some other adhesive tape to cover it so you can use the bath. Otherwise, any cool full-leg or full-back tattoos you have will result in you being refused entry.
If you go to a ”Super Sento” or a ryokan onsen, they usually have a restaurant inside that serves Japanese meals, as well as snacks and desserts at a decent price, so I would recommend stopping for a bite to eat either before or after your soak.
Once you’re in the changing rooms, you’ll notice a change in the other customers around you. Mainly the fact that they’re in the nude! Japanese sentos actually forbid the use of swimming trunks or Speedos, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. After a few minutes of awkwardness subside, you’ll find yourself in one of the most relaxing and comfortable places you can be during your internship in Japan.
Before you get in any of the baths, you have to take a shower using soap at one of the many showering stations. Shampoo and body soap are always free, so don’t be shy about getting nice and clean. The stations come with a bucket that you can fill with water and dunk on your head, as well as a small stool to sit on, too. The water temperature is even adjustable, so you don’t have to worry about that cold first blast of water. Remember to wet your stool with water when you’re done, and also make sure there are no soap suds left behind.
Once you’re all cleaned up, feel free to use any of the baths at your disposal. As with the rest of Japan, all you have to do is be courteous to those around you, and you shouldn’t have any problems. One main thing to avoid is letting either your long hair or your towel dip and soak in the bath, as it’s seen as unsanitary. Most “Super Sentos” are relatively foreigner friendly, and the staff might even hand you a pamphlet in English of the various rules that their sento has.
Be careful though, that hot water can get to you and make you dizzy so make sure you take plenty of breaks and hydrate beforehand and throughout your bathing experience.
Here are a few beginner-friendly bathhouses you can visit while on your internship:
The bathing area is a little small, so try and go on off-hours, but the whole place is decked out in anime promotional material, and there’s even a manga library at the top floor!
Once you’re done with your soak, you can have a drink at one of the various vending machines usually located just outside of the changing area. A cold drink after a hot bath is usually the way to go.
At the end of the day, just follow the signs, and do as others do. If you’re ever not sure of something, the staff is always super helpful, and will do their best to accommodate you.
You can’t experience Japan properly by simply visiting for a few days. What you need is ample time here so you can have opportunities to speak to locals, join events, and have fun! Zentern Internships provides that by giving you a wide variety of different internship opportunities to select from, and speedy representatives who know the ins and outs of Japan.