made in japan

Everything You Need for a Japanese-Style Onsen Bath at Home

woodblock print hot spring hakone, japan
A 19th-century woodblock print of one of the seven hot springs of Hakone, Japan.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a bath person, or are turned off by the idea of sitting in a tub of your own grime, you still might be charmed by the ritual of visiting a Japanese hot spring, or onsen. “The bath culture in this country is really ingrained,” explains Colin Fukai, global marketing chief at ‎Nishimuraya Honkan, a traditional-style hotel with an onsen located in Kinosaki, Japan — a town about two hours outside of Kyoto that’s known for its wealth of natural hot springs. “It’s a ritual. It’s for comfort. It’s for pleasure,” he says, and the goal of these soaking sessions isn’t to clean yourself, but to relax. “When you’re sitting in the hot spring and floating in there, it takes the stress off your body,” Fukai continues. He adds, “That is, I think, the big reason why Japanese people like to have their bath at the end of the day, rather than at the beginning.”

So whether you want to re-create the Japanese hot-spring experience, or you just want to learn how to take better baths, here are some of the things that will help you relax like you’re at an onsen without flying halfway around the world.

If you were to visit an onsen, the first thing you would do before you could even think about getting into the communal hot spring is take a shower. “As much as possible, try to do it like Japanese people do it. Clean yourself off before you actually enjoy the bath itself,” Fukai advises. The reason is strictly hygienic. “If you’re sitting in a bath and also scrubbing and trying to get clean, the bathwater itself will get dirty, which is quite natural, because you’re cleaning off,” says Fukai. “But I don’t think many people want to sit there for a very long time in dirty bathwater.” You can replicate this step of the onsen experience at home by showering before you fill up the tub — and if you’re looking to get a deep scrub in, like with this charcoal-infused washcloth recommended by writer Kurt Soller, while you shower would be the time to do it, not while you’re sitting in the bath.