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Odaiba Onsen Featured Images, Odaiba, Tokyo

Onsens in Japan date back thousands of years. Thousands of these hot springs can be found throughout the country, but the cultural barriers to entry can seem high to outsiders. Where do you go? What do you do? Do you really have to get naked around a bunch of strangers?

Never fear! I have been to several onsens throughout the country, and in this article I’ll show you the do’s and don’ts of the onsen experience. For this article, I use the Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Tokyo. Not only is it a great onsen, it is easy to get to from any number of local train stations and hotels.

And should you decide to visit the Oedo Onsen Monogatari, Voyagin can help you out with a discount!

A Note on Tattoos

Japanese people have an aversion to body art due to its long association with criminal elements. Some onsens outside of Tokyo allow them, and others will allow you to enter if you have some way of covering them up (usually with a flesh-toned bandage).

The Oodeo Onsen Monogatari does not allow tattoos at all. Yes, they are aware that not everyone who has a tattoo is a criminal. Your tattoos may very well be innocuous (your kid’s names, etc) or have some deep, personal meaning. But sorry, you will not be admitted. Please do not be the ugly foreigner who shows up and makes a scene by arguing with the staff.

NOTE: I have heard that some people have gotten around this rule by covering up with a t-shirt or leggings, but you will still not be able to get into the baths. And if you can’t go to the baths, why bother going at all? Also, I don’t know what happens to you if you get caught, but I’m sure it will cause quite a bit of embarrassment.

 

Money Matters

Onsen trips can be expensive. The Oedo Onsen Monogatari has a reasonable price of entry (2500-2900 yen per adult, 1000 yen for children ages 4-12, under 4 is free), which includes the bath, the yukata robe (more on that below), towels, and facility usage. But that’s not all–there are plenty of good things to eat and drink, games for the kids to play, and wonderfully relaxing massages.

You do not carry money at Oedo Onsen Monogatari–they have a computerized system that keeps track of your purchases via a barcoded bracelet that you will receive once you go inside. Therein lies the danger. Since money isn’t changing hands, you may have no idea how much you have spent until you get to the checkout counter. For your estimation purposes, my last trip with my wife and son cost 12,000 yen (baths, food and drink, etc). Make sure you have enough to cover your trip!

 

Other Things To Consider

Medical conditions and pregnancy. If you have high blood pressure, are pregnant, or are otherwise susceptible to high temperatures, complications could arise from using the baths. Please check with your doctor before you leave home if you are thinking of going to an onsen.

Bring a change of clothes. You will want clean underwear after you leave the baths, and clean clothes to change back into once you leave the onsen.

Know your height in centimeters, so you can get an appropriately-sized yukata (below).

 

The Oedo Onsen Monogatari Experience

Once you enter the onsen, you have to take off your shoes and place them in one of the lockers to the left of the entrance. You can wear socks if you want, but make sure they are clean and not-holey ones. Keep the key, so you can get your shoes back at the end of your visit.

Next, you will check in at the service desk. Here you will give your credit card number and you will receive a barcoded bracelet that doubles as locker key and wallet. The barcode bracelet is used to pay for food, drinks, and other extras inside the onsen area.

The third step is to get a yukata from the counter. A yukata is a thin robe, worn with a sash, which you will wear for the duration of your trip to the onsen. As it is with the case of tattoos, this is not negotiable–this is what is worn inside the onsen area. Go to the counter and choose your size (in centimeters), a pattern, and one of the sashes. Oh, and make sure you get one that is the correct size. Too long and you are wearing a wedding gown that trails everywhere. Too small, and everyone will wonder where the flood is.

 

Wearing Your Yukata

At Oedo Onsen Monogatari, there are separate changing rooms for men (blue curtain) and women (red curtain). The changing room is essentially a locker room. Find the locker that matches your key, and you will be ready to change into your yukata.

Wearing a yukata is just like wearing a bathrobe. When you put it on, you will cross the left side of the robe over the right. Ladies have additional strings on the inside of their yukata in order to prevent “wardrobe malfunctions.”

Why is it left over right? Well, the explanation I got was that swordsmen drew their katana with their right hand from their left hip, and having your yukata on right-over-left could possibly entangle your sword hand, which would likely get you killed.

“But I don’t have a sword,” I said. “Also, I’m left-handed. If I did get into a quick-draw-and-slash contest, I would be just as screwed.”

“Shut up and put it on right,” was my wife’s answer.

There is another reason. Wearing the yukata right-over-left is reserved for the dead at their funeral. No one will actually think that you are dead, but it is a social faux pas. On the other hand, you now know how to identify Japanese zombies should the dead rise during your vacation. If you forget which side goes over which, there are plenty of signs in the changing area to remind you.

Traditionally, people wore nothing at all under their yukata, but modernity has allowed for some modifications. First, you will wear underwear beneath your robe. Ladies, a bra is also appropriate. If you like, you can also wear a t-shirt and socks with your yukata. If you intend to go to the baths immediately, put on your fresh gear. You don’t want to take a bath only to put your dirty underwear back on.

Also, there is a small pocket on the inside to keep your cell phone or camera. You can take a camera inside the onsen, just be mindful of where you are taking pictures. In the common areas, it’s ok, but (for obvious reasons) no pictures are allowed in the locker rooms or bath areas.

 

To the Baths!

First, please refrain from taking a bath when you are dead drunk (see sign).

Thank you for not embarrassing the rest of the visitors. Now lets get to it.

Once you leave the locker room, you enter the common area, where all of the food booths, games, etc are located. Oedo Onsen Monogatari is built like a miniature hot springs town–in other onsens, all of these food stands, bars, games, etc. aren’t this close together. To get to the baths, go left and follow the signs.

Older onsens were mixed-sex bathing, but those have fallen out of fashion. Oedo Onsen Monogatari splits the baths into men’s and women’s sides. For this portion, please realize that I am a guy, so I only know what’s in the men’s baths. (My wife assures me that it is essentially the same over on their side, but you never know…)

After entering the bath area, you will first enter another locker room. Right inside the door you will receive two towels–one small, one large. With these, choose a locker and strip down. Everything goes into this locker–your yukata, underwear, socks, cell phone, and even your bar code bracelet. You cannot wear any clothing at all in the onsen–no shorts, no swim trunks, whatever. Naked as the day you were born, as the saying goes. The locker has a key on a plastic band. This goes around your wrist, and is the only exception to the “total nudity” rule.

The larger towel you got at the entrance also goes into the locker, because it is for drying yourself off after you get out of the bath. The smaller one (a washcloth, for Americans) is what you take into the onsen with you. If you are modest, you can use it to block the view of your junk, which no one cares about anyway. If you want to go like a native, you’ll use it to wash your face and dry your sweat in the baths. Please do not dip this cloth into the bath water–it is considered unsanitary to do so. While in the water, you can put it to the side or fold it up and put it on your head, just like in the cartoons.

 

Once Inside the Baths…

The first thing you do in the actual bath section is to take a shower. It may sound odd, but the purpose of the onsen is to relax, not bathe. You are going to soak here, and hopefully not in a bath of oily scum left by previous bathers. Inside the Oedo Onsen Monogatari, there are two options. Once you enter, there is a traditional “bowl bath”, in which you simply douse yourself in water. If you look behind you, there is a Western-style shower. Either way works.

If you are especially grimy, please use one of the shower stations that are on the left side of the indoor section of the baths. The stations all come with a stool, body soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a bowl and shower head combo. Get your pretty man on! Just make sure you get all of the soap off of your body before going to the baths. That’s another faux pas to avoid.

After that, there are several pools to choose from. They vary in temperature, as per a nearby thermometer. There are baths, and there is even is a whirlpool. Not bad, right? Be aware of the temperature and don’t force yourself to get into a bath if it is too hot.

And once you are there, relax. Nice, isn’t it? Some people bathe alone, and others gather in groups and chit-chat. If come by yourself, you will probably stay that way. One time during one of my earlier trips, some guy sat next to me to practice his naked English, which was rather awkward. But that was just that one time, out of dozens of trips.

 

Nude in the Great Outdoors

After your initial stride into the waters of a Broader Mindset, see if you can go outside. Yes, there are bathing pools outside, along with benches and other spots where you can lie down and flap about in the breeze. The high wall surrounding the area protects your privacy, and will protect the general public from your bad jokes (Q. Why did the bald man go outside at the onsen? A. He wanted to feel the wind in his hair). You can soak in the outside pool or take a nap if you like. Beware of sunburn on your sensitive bits.

Once you are done soaking, take another shower at one of the shower stations before exiting the bath area. You’ll leave the onsen feeling fresh, relaxed, and very clean. Time to see what else is here!

 

The Foot Baths

The foot baths at Oedo Onsen Monogatari are outside, in the Japanese gardens. Here, there is a long, winding walking pool. If you are feeling bold, hike up your yukata and wade right in!

I have to admit, this is not my favorite thing to do. The water is nice, but the walking path (both in the water and on the dry parts of the path) are studded with rocks. The rocks are supposed to “massage” your soles, for increased blood circulation or some other ancient Eastern medicine reason. I think that the larger rocks are ok for this, but walking on the smaller rocks is like finding missing Lego while going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Painful! Overall, I’d rather just sit on one of the benches that line either side of the pool and dangle my feet in the water.

There is another peculiar pool in this area, full of tiny fish. For a fee, you can soak your feet in this pool, and the fish will eat the dead skin off of whatever they can reach. The very idea sorta grosses me out, but some people seem to like it.

The Rest of Your Onsen Experience

The Oedo Onsen Monogatari is a great place to go for your first onsen experience. It is foreigner-friendly and easy to get around. All the signs are duplicated in English, and most of the staff can help you in areas related to their expertise.

There are lots of things to eat and drink. Just about every Japanese dish is represented here at one food stand or another, along with desserts (I liked the strawberry ice topped with condensed milk). We went with a group and had lunch with them (pictured), but you don’t have to do that. Just find what you like, point at the menu, and use your barcode bracelet to pay. Easy!

And there are other things to do. Near the bathing area is the spa, where you can get everything from a massage to skin exfoliation to a reflexology treatment. There are plenty of carnival-style games for the kids (and me, because I like throwing ninja stars). There is even a reclining chair area for you to take a nap, in case all of that relaxing wears you out.

And don’t forget to go to the gift shop before you leave!

In Short…

Going to an onsen is one of those “very Japanese” things to do, and will make for a great story when you return home. I used the Oedo Onsen Monogatari as a template for onsen trips–if you go somewhere else, the particulars may vary, but probably not by much. Also, Oedo Onsen Monogatari is inside Tokyo and is easy to get to through any number of methods (see below). If you are staying at a hotel, they can likely arrange a trip for you. Highly recommended!

Still not sure if you want to go to Oedo Onsen Monogatari? Maybe Voyagin’s discount can help you decide!

Oedo Onsen Monogatari

Oedo Onsen Monogatari Location Information

Website (English) | Facebook (customer reviews and photos)

Access: There are multiple ways to get to Oedo Onsen Monogatari, best explained at http://daiba.ooedoonsen.jp/en/#access

Hours of Operation: Open 7 days a week, 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m (next day), last entry: 7 a.m.

“Why Go?”: For a relaxing soak, good food, and an unforgettable experience!

Click on one of the tags below to find other experiences in Tokyo–

July 17, 2015 0 comment
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Entrance to Meiji Jingu Shrine

 

 

Entrance to Meiji Jingu Shrine

Entrance to Meiji Jingu shrine buildings

Japan can be a difficult country to explore if you’re a budget traveler. One great way to make your trip to Tokyo cheaper and more enjoyable is to use one of the free tour guides in Tokyo. Tour guides volunteer to show foreign tourists around the city for a variety of reasons, such as practicing their language skills, or just having fun meeting new people and showing you their hometown. Check out our article on free tour guides in Tokyo!

The following are all the different volunteer groups that are available:

 

Free Tour Guides in Tokyo : Capital Tokyo West SGG Club

Capital Tokyo West SSG Club is a group of goodwill volunteers who provide tours all over Tokyo, but focus on the Western side. Here you can find English, French and Italian-speaking volunteers. They are more than happy to help you plan your personal tour. Their service hours are 9:30-17:00 everyday and are sometimes flexible. If you are interested, visit their website and email them in advance at chu-san@sb3.so-net.ne.jp to arrange a tour.

Edo Tokyo Guide Group

Established in 2006, Edo Tokyo Guide Group can guide you in a variety of languages besides English. You can take a look at their previous guide reports here. Check out their website and contact them at least 2 weeks in advance by e-mail Edo.Tokyo.Guide.int@gmail.com to request a tour.

Entrance to Meiji Jingu Shrine free tour guides in tokyo

 

Shinagawa SGG Club

Shinagawa SGG Club will cater tours to your interests and requests. The volunteer can accompany you up to 3 days but groups shouldn’t be larger than 10 people. Feel free to read reviews from previous visitors here. Please visit their website and email them at least two weeks in advance to arrange a tour at sinagawa_sgg2004@yahoo.co.jp

 

The Japanese Red Cross Language Service Volunteers

The Japanese Red Cross Language Service Volunteers offer tours for the physically challenged and their assistants in various languages. Please visit their website and apply at least two weeks in advance by e-mail at sgg@tok-lanserv.jp .

Tokyo Free Guide

“We are full of energy with heart-warming hospitality and cultural insights.” An organization with over 350 volunteer guides, Tokyo Free Guide provides tours in several languages. To make your tour more enjoyable, don’t forget to write down your interests when submitting your request. Some of the guides know a lot about the Japanese pop culture while other guides might have a vast knowledge about history, religion or even… good food! Please submit your request through their website at least two weeks before your desired tour date.

Skytree free tour guides in tokyo

Tokyo Free Walking Tour

A weekly free English-language walking tour is held every Saturday (except January 1-3), from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. They are currently offering two tours. Their main tour is the “East Gardens of the Imperial Palace” and the other is the “Asakusa” tour. However, the Asakusa tour is conducted on a non-regular basis so remember to check their schedule beforehand. No reservations are needed for the walking tours so if you are interested, feel free to meet up with the tour guides. The meeting place for the Imperial Palace tour is at the ground floor of Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi Central Ticket Gate. The meeting place for the Asakusa tour is to be announced so stay tuned! You can check them out at their website or look for them on Facebook.  If you have any questions, please e-mail tfwt@live.jp .

 

Tokyo SGG Club

Tokyo Systemized Goodwill Guide Club (SGG Club) is a member group of Japan’s National Tourism Organization (JNTO). Primarily offering set tours of Asakusa and Ueno, Tokyo SGG Club also offers custom tours for free on request. They also have several information desks around Ueno area so check out their website for more information!

Spending a bit of extra time in Japan? There are also free English-language tours available in Kyoto and Osaka!

May 8, 2014 0 comment
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Japan Travel Apps

Japan can be a complicated place to see. But if you’re on the lookout for one of the free tour guides in Osaka, check out the people we found!

Free Tour Guides in Osaka : Foreigner Guides Net Osaka

“We will help you enjoy your tour to scenic view point, historical sites and/or hi-tech factories, institutions, folk-art workshops etc. in Kansai area.”
Foreigner Guides Net Osaka offers free tours in English, Chinese and other languages throughout Osaka and other areas in Kansai. Foreigner Guides Net Osaka is registered as a Systemized Goodwill Guide of Japan’s National Tourism Organization. In addition, the volunteers might be able to help you to get access to a specific industry or a company. Be sure to make reservations at least 2 weeks before your tour date.

Website: http://fgnosa.sakura.ne.jp/

Visit Kansai

Visit Kansai offers not only free tour guides in Osaka, but other areas at Kansai as well. There’s more than just historical sites and shrines to see there. You can easily choose the tour guide that suits your needs best since all the tour guides’ profiles and availability are listed on their website. In addition check out their website for some tips and advices to help you travel. Feel free to reviews written by tourists that visited Kansai and used their free service guide. Here are their recommended sightseeing and to do/eat locations to help you plan your tour. Don’t forget to check out the seasonal events and add those to your trip when you’re there!

Website: http://www.visitkansai.com/

Osaka Systemized Good-will Guides Club (OSGG)

“More than just enjoyable, we are most impressed by your careful planning of our day so that we optimized our time.”

“Your warmth and cheerful personality really made a positive difference in our trip.”

Founded in 1982, OSGG  was one of the very first good-will guides club in the world.  Their free tour guide services are generally in English. Furthermore there are a few volunteers can speak Spanish, French and German and sometimes they can offer tours for these languages. You should make reservations at least 2 weeks before your desired tour date.

Website: http://osakasgg.org/eng/index.html

Osaka Tenma Yomiuri SGG Club

Osaka Tenma Yomiuri SGG Club provides free tour guide in Osaka. They also offer translation services in the Kansai area. There are volunteer guides than can speak French, Chinese and Korean. Their services are available up until 6pm everyday. You can make reservations online, by phone or fax.

Website: http://www.geocities.jp/goodwilltenma/index.html

 

Osaka Free Guide

“Meet local, experience local.”

Established in 2013, volunteers from the Osaka Free Guide are happy to accompany you during your trip. The volunteers are Osaka locals. Knowing Osaka well, they are more than welcome to guide you for free around the city. You can make bookings here. Discover more about their tours and Osaka itself on their Facebook page.

Website: http://www.osakafreeguide.com/

 

Extra tip: if you’re going to Osaka on a short break from Tokyo and you’re looking to save as much money as possible, take Willer Express. They started of as a highway bus company that has English language services but are now offering hotel and flight reservations. You can get cheaper fares, especially if booked in advance.

Planning on traveling around? More free tour guides are available in both Kyoto and Tokyo!

 

April 18, 2014 0 comment
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