The onsen experience has always been an essential part of visiting Japan—every prefecture (or city, even) has their share of these traditional hot spring bath houses, which both the locals and tourists enjoy. The art of soaking in these naturally nutrient-rich waters dates way back, and there are strict guidelines on entering the establishments: One, you’ve got to be stark naked. Two, no tattoos.
In 2016 – 2017, the onsen scene took its baby steps with several hotel chains and bath houses allowing inked visitors. Traditionally they are not allowed, because tattoos are associated with the local yakuza triads. However, many have accepted tattoos as a modern expression of individuality, and acknowledge that that most youth and tourists who sport body ink are in fact, not “gangsters”. For some of chains that allow tattoos (they’ll provide stick-on patches for you to cover them up), read here: 4 Onsen in Japan That Welcome You And Your Tattoos
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But even if you don’t have any tattoos to stop you from taking a dip, you may feel paiseh to bare your bits in public. Fret not: We’re glad to share that not only are more establishments allowing tattoos, they’re allowing clothes, too! These hotels and chains usually provide their own special bath robes. This move is for the youths (and tourists) who are shy to go naked, especially in mix-gender pools. Aside from businesses that allow clothes, there are also many public, free-admission hot springs near rivers and streams that allow bathing suits. For your convenience, here are a few onsen spots you can visit clothed:
- Sui Suwako Hotel, Nagano Prefecture
The newly opened hotel (2016) allows its guests to enter the onsen dressed in the yuami-gi bath robe as provided by the hotel. The hotel has only one pool (that’s why it’s for both men and women) that overlooks the stunning Lake Suwa.
- Kawayu Onsen Sennin-buro River Bath, Wakayama
This is a free-admission public onsen that’s only available in winter. By digging a pool in the gravel path, the hot spring and cool river waters flow in to form an onsen that’s just the right temperature for soaking. There is a makeshift changing area by the river for visitors to get into their bathing suits.
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- Kinugawa Nioson Plaza, Tochigi
There are three outdoor baths, but only one allows swimsuits—the Butai no Yu. From that pool, you can enjoy the view of Kinugawa River.
- Enoshima Island Spa
There’s a bathing suit zone, which includes the Gensen and Kihosen onsen. It’s outdoors, so you can feast your eyes on the ocean view and if you’re lucky, Mount Fuji!
- Izu Shimoda Seiryuso Ryokan, Shizuoka
With tiled flooring and tanning ledges, this looks a lot more like a regular swimming pool than a traditional onsen. The heated pool features naturalspring water, and you’ll need to be a guest of the ryokan (Japanese inn) to use the pool.
- Beppu Suginoi Hotel HANA, Oita
Beppu Onsen is one of the most famous places for hot springs! And thankfully, at this hotel you can soak while dressed in your swimsuit. There is the outdoor “Terraced Rice Fields” pool, and Aqua Garden.
- Oedo Onsen Monogatari Mangekyo, Chiba
Loved by tourists for its close proximity to Tokyo Disneyland, the Urayasu Oedo Onsen outlet allows visitors to enter in their swimsuits too.
- Kitayuzawa Onsen Yumoto Daini Meisui-tei, Hokkaido
Located in Hokkaido, this ryokan offers the best of both worlds: There are the western-style pool that allows swimsuits, as well as the authentic onsen pools which abide by the traditional rules (no clothes).
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- Shin-Hodaka Onsen Shinzansou, Gifu
Be one with nature at this outdoor onsen along Gamada River. You can wear your swimsuit, as you enjoy the view of Mount Nuketo. We recommend going in Autumn, when the foliage turns magnificent shades of red and yellow.
- Hakone Kowakien Yunessun (Kanagawa)
Hakone Kowakien Yunessun is an onsen theme park with 16 baths that allow swimsuits! There are open-air ones where you can enjoy scenery, as well as the Dokutsu bath inside a cave. Perfect if you’re heading to Hakone for a day or two.
- Yuashisu Togo Ryuhoukaku, Tottori
Aside from permitting swimsuits, this onsen comes with a beautiful view! It faces Lake Togo and the Enchoen Chinese garden. Psst.. It’s particularly pretty during sunset!
Ready to embark on your adventure?
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