Tokyo Spas

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Tokyo Spas, also known as “Onsen” (hot springs, 温泉), are popular attractions for both tourists and residents of Japan and Tokyo. While the word “onsen” technically refers to the naturally created outdoor hot springs that occur near volcanoes, the term has been used to refer to indoor spas as well, though most often the term “Sento” is used instead.


Spa Types

Indoor and outdoor spas vary considerably, but they are both very popular attractions for tourists.

Onsen (Hot Springs)

There are very few “hot springs” in Tokyo itself, partially because the Tokyo does not have enough volcanic activity directly in it to create natural hot springs. Most of the volcanoes are outside Tokyo. Still, these hot springs do exist. The water is warmed to over 25° C, and it is pumped from neighboring areas.

Many people think of Onsen in terms of its traditional scene, where men and women bath together, in the nude, enjoying the therapy of the heated water. However, Tokyo’s onsen (because they differ from the tradition onsen of the neighboring areas) often do require a swimsuit because they are trying to change the atmosphere for tourists. Those looking for the traditional onsen experience will likely want to look outside of Tokyo.

To use any onsen (or sento, for that matter) you must be fully cleaned from top to bottom with no dirt or soap found anywhere on your body. Even when you wear a swimsuit, you must have no dirt at all otherwise you are considered rude and unclean.

Some onsen put herbs and scents into the water for therapy. People often converse in the onsen, but in general it is a place designed for therapy and relaxation.

Some onsen in and near Japan include:

Sento (Indoor Spas)

The Sento is a communal bath house. It is far more common in Tokyo, where onsen are less often seen. Sentos can refer to simply public baths (not warm spas) and were very common when few dwellings had bathrooms, but with renovation comes more individual baths in people’s homes, and so they are far more often used now by tourists and those looking to relax with friends.

Men and women are traditionally separated in the bath houses, with an attendant (usually female) watching both sides to ensure safety.

Unlike onsen, the sento are a place to clean, so people enter the baths dirty. That has caused numerous bacterial infections in the past.

Although the number of sento have been drastically declining, they are slowly converting more sento into tourist and relaxation areas, rather than places to bathe, because bathing is far more common to occur in the home instead.


Simulated hot springs can often be found in hotels and guest houses for guests and tourists to enjoy during their stay. Much like the indoor onsen, these places usually require a bathing suit but they often are provided with the appearance of the traditional onsen (sometimes overdone with an excess of traditional Japanese designed) in order to make them more relaxing. You do not always need to be staying at the hotel to use their spa.

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