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  • > What are differences among private open-air baths in rooms, private-use hot spring baths, and large public baths at ryokans?

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Pictures: Shima Yamaguchikan / Hakone-Ginyu / Minami Sanriku Hotel Kanyo

Here are unique attractive features of onsen ryokan (hot spring inns), including private hot springs and rooms with private open-air baths.

icon_01Rooms with private open-air baths

Some ryokan have rooms with private open-air baths. This kind of rooms should be booked when you reserve the ryokan. They are very popular since one can enjoy a bath whenever and as much as they like without having to worry about others.
This is ideal not only for families with small children but also for couples. You can have a gorgeous bath time, enjoying wonderful views from the open-air bath (rotenburo) in your room. List of the ryokans >>

icon_02Private-use hot spring baths (Kashikiri buro, Onsen for couples/tattoos)

More and more ryokan offer hot spring baths which guests can reserve for private use for one hour, instead of rooms with private hot spring baths.
Each ryokan has its own unique private-use spa facilities, ranging from open-air baths, indoor baths, and those with both indoor and outdoor hot tubs to those with ocean views and those with tatami bamboo floor. Whatever you choose, you can exclusively enjoy a spacious bath, which will make you feel rich and relaxed. The price varies by ryokan; some are free while others are charged (usually 2,000 to 3,000 yen for one-time use).” List of the ryokans >>

How to book private hot springs (Kashikiri buro)

There are three ways to book baths for private use, depending on what type of baths or ryokan you reserve.

  1. Private hot spring baths you can use whenever available
    Some ryokan have private-use hot spring baths with a tag to indicate availability on the door. When it says “”available,”” you can use the bath. Please flip the tag to the “”not available”” side and lock the door from the inside before you take a bath.
    This type of private hot springs is free of charge, but you have to check the availability since you cannot make reservations.
  2. Hot spring baths to reserve for private use upon check-in
    At some ryokan, all guests can reserve the baths for private use only at the time of check-in. This type of private-use baths cannot be booked in advance of check-in for the sake of fairness. So, you may have to check in early to make a reservation for the time you want.
    The reservation fee varies; some are free while others are charged.
  3. Hot spring baths to reserve for private use in advance
    Some ryokan allow you to reserve the baths for private use in advance of your stay. This is similar to making a restaurant reservation in advance. If it is available during your stay, you can also reserve it on the spot.
    The reservation fee varies; some are free while others are charged.

Large public baths / Large public open-air bath (Rotenburo)

The main bathhouses are gender-segregated at all of the inns. Packed with attractive features such as beautiful views, great therapeutic benefits, and spacious, relaxing bath tubs, large baths are often one of the biggest selling points of the ryokan.
Japanese like large baths so much that even some midtown business hotels have one. They are very popular because a spacious hot spring bath is totally different from a small tap-water bath at home and makes one feel deeply relaxed.
In general, a large bath consists of a big indoor bath tub, a big open-air bath tub (rotenburo), and a place for washing (a shower space with soap and shampoo products guests can use for free). Take shower before entering the hot tub. Most ryokan provide you with a big towel to dry off with and a small towel to wash yourself with. The small towel is also often used to cover your privates when entering the bathroom. It’s a common courtesy to look away from others when taking a public bath. This is how people ensure privacy from each other.

There are fewer people at spas early in the morning and late at night, so you are recommended to take a bath at that time if you are not familiar with Japanese-style hot springs. It may take a little courage at first, but this unique experience is definitely worth trying!

Mixed bathing

Mixed bathing means a public bathhouse where men and women enter the same baths. But today there are very few places where this can be done and most Japanese people feel uncomfortable with mixed bathing.
Therefore, there is a growing number of facilities that provide bathing suits for mixed bathing.
The remaining hot spring facilities where mixed bathing can be done today are those with extremely attractive features such as having a long history, having good quality water, providing beautiful scenery, and so on.
Therefore, there is a growing number of facilities that allow women to enjoy their time alone with other women or provide bathing suits for mixed bathing.

Tips – onsen manners and Japanese bathing etiquette

The followings are prohibited at public spas, regardless of whether you are Japanese or not.

  • * Occupying a washing space with your belongings when you are not using it
  • * Talking noisily with your friends or family
  • * Soaking your towel in the bath tub (This may cause water contamination and infection.)
  • * On guests with tattoos
    Japanese people generally regard people with tattoos as gangsters that should be avoided.
    This is why people with tattoos are often forbidden in large public baths that are shared by everyone.
    However, people with tattoos can enjoy hot spring baths in private-use hot spring baths, guest rooms with private open-air baths, and so on as they cannot be seen by others.
    Please make your reservations at this site as it introduces many facilities such as ryokans with private-use hot spring baths and ryokans with guest rooms that have private open-air baths.

Typical Japanese onsen ryokan (hot spring inns) rooms

In general, ryokan have approximately 15-square-meter Japanese-style tatami rooms with a bathtub, shower, washbasin, toilet, and so on. There are no beds, and you will sleep in the futon on the tatami mats. Japanese-style rooms are filled with the country’s ancient wisdom of using natural materials. For example, with paper sliding doors (called “shoji” or “fusuma” in Japanese) and an alcove (“tokonoma”) decorated with a traditional flower arrangement and a hanging scroll, the rooms are compact but functional and tasteful.

Yukata

Yukata is a cotton kimono worn as a bath robe. When it is cold, you can wear another kimono-sleeve top over it. Wear yukata with the left side over the right side and tie a sash around your waist.
Most ryokan allow you to wear yukata inside the facilities, including restaurants and spas.
This is more comfortable to wear, so many Japanese wear yukata during their stay at ryokan.
You can even go for a walk in yukata around the ryokan. Enjoy the Japanese culture and ambiance just as Japanese people do. To take full pleasure in this unique atmosphere, you are recommended to wear a pair of Japanese wooden sandals (called “”geta”” and free to borrow from the ryokan where you stay). If you stay in a large hot spring resort with many ryokan, you will see a variety of gift shops lining the streets to provide you with an experience unique to hot spring resorts, which is not limited to taking a bath but also includes eating onsen manju (sweet buns steamed in hot spring water or steam).
It is easy to wear yukata, but if you like, you can also ask ryokan staff to show you how to wear it.

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