Capybara in onsen bath with yuzu
Photo: Aruteshima/PhotoAC

How to bring the Japanese onsen experience to your bath at home

With these onsen tips and tricks, you too can be calm like these bathing capybaras in Tochigi

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen

The act of taking a bath in Japan is so integral to people’s daily lives that public baths, known as sento, are allowed to remain open even while the nationwide state of emergency is in place. Baths are thought to help improve blood circulation and relieve stress, among other benefits, while natural hot springs in more rural areas are also rich in minerals that are known to make your skin more supple.

While local sento baths remain open, most luxury ryokan and onsen inns have closed temporarily. However, there are a few ways you re-create the soothing onsen experience at home and at the same time, enhance your bathing routine.

VR onsen

Got a VR set? A few ryokans in the spa town of Arima Onsen in Kobe have uploaded VR videos of their baths to YouTube for netizens to enjoy the sights and sounds of their famous baths. Of course, you don’t necessarily need VR goggles to enjoy the footage. Pan around the videos for a surround view of the onsen and turn your volume up to hear the soothing sounds of trickling spring water. 

It’s common for onsen to be filled with whole yuzu when winter solstice is near. The Japanese citrus perfumes hot spring water with bright, zesty notes, which can help alleviate winter blues. However, there’s no reason to wait for winter to drop a few in your tub at home so you can be as blissful as these capybaras. In fact, the docile rodents from Nasu Animal Kingdom in Tochigi are regularly treated to fruit-filled baths year-round.

If dropping whole fruit into your bath water seems a bit wasteful for a one-time spa session, you can also use orange peels tied in a cloth bag for an equally uplifting aroma.

VR onsen
Photo: torayuki/photoac

Another popular addition to onsen baths is sake. Japanese sake makers are known to have youthful looking hands because of the amino acids in the fermented rice. To reap the benefits of the amino acids in sake, add one to two cups of sake to a bath at 38-40 degrees celsius.

To experience how hot spring water varies across Japan, you could also get a box set of bath salts from different onsen towns. Each sachet has a distinct scent and colour, and feature the same benefits as the natural spring water in those towns.

You'll want to cool yourself off after sitting in a hot bath, and most super sentos will have kiosks for ice cream, beer or cold milk – the most popular after-bath refreshments in Japan. So have a treat from the konbini ready for after you towel yourself off.

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