The Great Soak: Uncovering the Japanese Onsen Tradition

An often mysterious world for visitors to Japan, and an ingrained part of Japanese culture. Thousands of natural hot springs, or onsens, are scattered throughout Japan, each with its own distinct charms, atmosphere, unique mineral composition and adjoining facilities.

Niseko is home to many onsens, including our very own Ki Onsen. To start you on your onsen journey in Japan, here's a little more about onsens and the many benefits of this age-old Japanese tradition.

So, what is an onsen?

Onsen Law, established in 1948, states that an onsen is any water, water vapour, or gas that gushes out from the land containing either a water temperature over 25 degrees Celsius at the source or one of 19 different prescribed minerals or chemicals.

In essence, it's a naturally created hot bath filled with a mix of minerals straight from the earth!

Why do the Japanese love onsen?

Japanese people love to bathe. Most Japanese houses have a bath separate from the shower so that people can relax in hot water at the end of the day and soothe their stresses of daily life.

It's not just at home either, with Japanese people bathing together as part of the culture. There's even a Japanese phrase, hadaka no tsukiai meaning "naked relationship", that refers to how interpersonal bonds are strengthened by bathing together, hiding nothing from each other.

People bathing in onsen dates back to the 7th century, and since then, it's become the main form of leisure for Japanese people. Legend has it that onsen were discovered when people witnessed wounded animals healing themselves by bathing in the water, while samurai would use onsen to treat their battle scars.

Ki Onsen.

Enjoy the winter tranquility at Ki Onsen.

What are the benefits of onsen?

It has been scientifically proven that bathing in onsen can help maintain good health and remedy numerous aches, some injuries, high blood pressure, diseases, skin conditions, diabetes, and much more, according to the water's mineral composition.

How do I bathe in an onsen?

It's very important to know that onsens are for bathing, not for washing. To preserve the purity of the onsen, ensure to cleanse yourself properly using the provided shower and washing facilities at the onsen, then rinse off all soap completely, then enter the onsen.

No clothing or bathing suits are to be worn in the onsen, and your small modesty towel must not enter the onsen (leave beside on the edge of the onsen or fold and drape your towel on your head). For more must-know onsen rules (because there are a few to remember!), refer to our Onsen Etiquette.

It's a good idea to gradually warm your body, starting with your feet, by slowly submersing your body into the onsen. This prevents an unwanted sudden change of blood pressure.

Then all you have to do is relax and enjoy! Soak in the onsen as long as it feels comfortable for you and you don't have to soak too long to reap the benefits. You can take breaks or sit half way out of the onsen during your session, too. Take a rest after enjoying the onsen; it is said that one consumes 250-300 calories of energy when taking a 42℃ hot spring for 20 minutes. It’s equivalent to one hour of jogging!

Want your own Japanese onsen experience? Find out more about Ki Onsen.