How to take a communal bath : Onsen or Sento in Japan and casual Japanese

Japanese culture

My name is Satomi : Tokyo “Shitamachi” Local town Concierge of Susy’s Zoo Japanese & Nail.

Have you been to Onsen or Sentou in Japan?

Have you had a problem at Onsen or Sentou in Japan?

For example, 

・You can’t go there because of Tattoo.

・You don’t know how to use facilities.

・You don’t know manner and etiquette at Onsen and Sentou. 

・Most Japanese look at you.

and so on. 

Today, I will tell you about how to take an Onsen and Sentou in Japan.

What is the difference from Onsen and Sentou ?

Onsen and Sentou is the same as public bath but  most Onsen is made by nature and Sentou is a public bath is made not by nature but by art.

The definition of Onsen

The temperature of the source is 25 ° C or higher, or one or more of the ingredients specified by a low about Onsen are included. Therefore, even if the temperature is cold, it can be used as Onsen if it contains designated components such as lithium ions and hydrogen ions.

The definition of Sento

Sentou is defined by a low about public bath. Therefore, Sentou is the different from a low about Onsen.

History of Sentou

People say the origin of “Taking a bath” is when Buddhism found its way into Japan.

People say how to take a bath now is from Edo period.

Why people who get a tattoo can’t take a bath ?

People who get a tattoo couldn’t go at most public bathes in Japan but it is not all public bathes.

Because most people image “Tattoo=Yakuza or an organized crime group member”.

It means people who get a tattoo is deeply rooted as antisocial forces for Japanese. 

For example, if an organized crime groups members in a group take a bath, most customers could’t be relax. 

So, staff at public bath might consider it.

What is the difference from Tattoo and ilezumi?

Ilezumi in Japanese is transrated to tattoo in English.

But most Japanese would recognize as the difference things.

Tattoo is as a fashion in Japan, recently.

Most Japanese would image tattoo like this.

Most Japanese would image ilezumi like this.

Japanese ilezumi = Yakuza or an organized crime group member.

It would be not easy to judge these tattoo and ilezumi for staff.

That’s why people get tattoo and ilezumi can not go to a sento or onsen and

History of ilezumi

People might get ilezumi in Jyoumon period because of a clay figure.

In Nala period, Ilezumi was one of punishment.

In Edo period, criminals got ilezumi as a punishment and it was the varies by region.

For example, criminals got ilezumi:「悪」on their arms in Kishu(Wakayama).

「悪」means evil in Japanese.

You could go to a sento or onsen if you hide your tattoo.

Some public bath let you take if you hide your tattoo,

If the public bath let you swimwear, you could hide by a rush gard.

Or tape like this,

13% of the public bath let you take a bath.

So it is not many public bath even if you hid your tattoo.

How to take a Sento or Onsen

Most people use a public bath that has been accepted regardless of the user’s status.

Therefore, we have to keep good manners to protect to the culture.

We would have to pay public bath charge by cash at most Sento.

In Tokyo, it would under 500 yen.

Also, there is no bath amenities like shampoo at most sento. So I recommend you bring it. If you forget it, you could get it at Sento.

Shoes strictly prohibited

You can’t go inside with shoes.

You would see a shoe rack like this near the entrance.

①Please your shoes in 

②Close it

③Take the wooden tag.

If you take this wooden tag, you could lock.

Dressing room

It is your responsibility to take care of your belongings. 

Put the clothes you have taken off as well as any valuables in a locker.

*Don’t try to push in your baggage.

*Keep your locker key around your wrist while enjoying bathing.

*Don’t use your phone at dressing room.

When using a communal bath

*The basic rule is to take a bath totally unclothed.

There are cases when those with a swimsuit on or with a tattoo are not allowed to bathe in a communal bath. Ask the staff beforehand whether doing so is acceptable or not.

*It is better to bring a face towel.


①You would see the chairs and washtubs near the entrance.

You have to bring a chair and a washtub for you and you have to back it when you leave.

② There are taps, mirror, shower.

Red tap is hot water and blue tap is cold water.

Hot water is too hot so it is better to adjust with cold water.

*Don’t leave the water running because the water might shot out on another people.

Don’t wash  clothes in the bathroom or in the tub.

To wash clothes, you are advised to use a laundromat or the laundry service available in the accommodation facility you are stying in.


*Do not swim, jamp around or dive into the communal bathtub.

*It is not proper to soak a towel or rinse unwashed hair in the tub.

After taking a bath

*Dry your body in the bathroom before entering the dressing room.

Think about  if you keep wet your body and go back in the bathroom.

You would wet the floor.

Let’s try! 

At a communal bath, sometimes a preceding visitor decide the location to wash.

Then, it is better to ask them in Japanese.



Recently, Tattoo is a fashion for Japanese. But It is not easy for staff to judge it fashion or not. Thats why there are many communal bathes refuse you get a tattoo.

It is very important to not bother people when you go to a communal bath.

If you are interested in Sushi culture, I recommend SUSHIDO with sushi (We also have vegetarian menu) when you visit to Tokyo.

If you are interested in Shitamachi(Do you know Shitamachi?) ,secret spots in Tokyo and Japanese casual conversation for trip, I recommend Online Japanese lesson.

Reference : 東京都産業労働局 MATCH TATOO 楽天 Btown