kate rowland


How to Onsen in Japan!

JapanKate Rowland4 Comments

Hot spring bathing is one thing you're always advised not to miss in Japan, and I agree! It's an ancient tradition that's still an incredibly popular part of life here. I've found that Japanese people are always curious to find out if you enjoy it as much as they do.

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There are many types of onsen to choose from. If you want to treat yo' self, stay in a ryokan (hot spring inn) for a wonderful private bathing experience, usually with meals included. There are also many day-only options, where the price can be as little as 500 yen. I'd recommend looking for facilities with a rotemburo, an outdoor bath. There is nothing like bathing naked outside, especially in winter when the cold air (and snow) is a refreshing relief from the scalding hot water. The water varies from place to place too, with baths containing different minerals, variations in temperature, cloudiness, and amount of sulphur. It's good to find one with multiple baths so that you can try them all!

Okay, first up.

  • If you have tattoos, do your research! Tattoos are not allowed in most onsen due to their organised crime associations. I find that Google reviews are a good place to check. I always cover my tattoo with muscle support tape anyway, and I've gotten away with it if the baths are quiet. Otherwise, you'll have to opt for a private bath option.
  • You have to be naked! Don't think you'll get away with a swimming costume. 
  • Don't take photos. Obviously. People are naked. So as beautiful as it is, you should not instagram it.
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My first Japanese bathing experience was in probably the smallest, busiest sento (public bath) in Tokyo that our entire running club visits post-track session. It was June, the humidity levels were through the roof, I'd just run intervals for an hour and I was SO ANXIOUS. And sweaty. Oh so sweaty. I was stressing about doing everything wrong. Luckily I bluffed my way through and, to my knowledge, didn't offend anyone. 

Follow a few basic guidelines and you'll have a stress-free, relaxing onsen experience! Usually, baths will have posters with images to remind you of the dos and don'ts. 

  • Take off your shoes before you enter the changing rooms! The baths are gender separated - if you aren't sure which is which, wait until someone enters or leaves.
  • There are usually baskets or lockers to leave your belongings and clothes in.
  • Take a small towel or flannel into the baths, as well as a band to keep your hair out of the water, and shampoo etc if you don't want to use the basic ones provided.
  • Wash first! Take a tiny, tiny stool that seems to have been made for a child, and use the shower head or bowl to wash your body and hair. Don't forget to rinse the stool afterwards for the next bum!
  • Put your towel on your head, or leave it out of the way on the side, and enter the water S L O W L Y ! If there are multiple baths, pick the coolest first! Sit on the side first and gradually lower yourself in.
  • I can only stay submerged for a few minutes before I start to feel dizzy. Make sure to bring some fresh water in case you feel dehydrated, which will almost certainly happen. It's perfectly acceptable to sit with just your feet in the water, or to get out entirely for a few minutes. 
  • I've been told that you are not supposed to shower again or rinse after you've left the sulphuric bath, as it's beneficial for your skin. However. You will potentially smell of eggs. So it's up to you.
  • Dry yourself with your little towel as much as possible before going back into the changing room.

And you've onsen-ed! It truly is an enjoyable experience, and I'm surprised at how comfortable and happy I feel bathing naked. I like this quote from a book called Yudo: Art of the Bath;

"Scrubbed clean of daily life and soaking in the bath, ordinary social barriers break down, providing a chance to speak unusually openly and honestly with one another. In the bath, everyone is equal."

If I've missed anything, or if you'd like to share your own onsen experience, please leave a comment, I'd love to hear it! 

Kate x

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9 Awesome Shops to Visit in Tokyo!

Japan, TravelKate RowlandComment

In Japan, shopping is a big deal. The sheer number and variety of shops in this consumer capital is, honestly, astounding. Often, I will mistakenly take the wrong exit from a familiar train station, and end up in a mall I had no idea existed. Just when I think I've got to grips with our local shopping street, I discover there are 5 more floors of shops in each building, not to mention 3 basement levels. At first it can seem overwhelming, so if you're visiting Tokyo and want to shop, it's a good idea to do some research first! I have by no means explored everything, but here is a list of my favourite shops in Tokyo so far...


1. Darwin Room

Shimo-kitazawa is a cool, relaxed neighbourhood in Tokyo, and has many independent shops. The plant-covered Darwin Room is intriguing both inside and out. Part shop and part museum, this tiny space is a natural historians dream, stuffed full of fascinating objects, books and exhibits. They even have a few seats, where you can relax with a coffee and admire the surroundings.


2. New York Joe Exchange

Located at the other end of Shimo-kitazawa is New York Joe Exchange, a thrift store where you can buy, or sell, clothes. There's loads of reuse stores in this area, but this one is inside an old traditional sento (a Japanese bathhouse), complete with beautiful tiles, and is particularly cheap!


3. Sekaido

Shelves stacked high with pencils, in every colour you can imagine. Delightful rows of sketchbooks, in size order. Trays filled with a rainbow of watercolour pans and ink bottles. Things you never knew you needed, like pencil caps and beautiful, giant calligraphy brushes. I could spend hours and hours in this art supply store. There are many branches in Tokyo, but the Shinjuku branch is the biggest (and busiest!).


4. 100 Yen Shops

Everyone's heard of these pound/dollar store type shops, found all over Japan. Unlike a pound shop in the UK, however, 100 yen stores are filled with genuinely excellent products! Pretty ceramics, cute souvenirs, stationery, craft and beauty goods. I've bought loads of useful, (and not-so-useful) items for our apartment here. There are a few different chains, the most popular are Daiso and Seria.


5. Tokyu Hands

Tokyu Hands and it's rival-corporation-owned equivalent, Loft, are 'creative life stores'. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but they sell cool stuff! The stationary floor is famous, but my favourite department is the DIY/craft floor, with it's huge range of raw materials, tools and supplies. Last time I returned to the UK, I was accompanied by a suitcase filled with exotic wood, glossy acrylic and sheets of copper...


6. Don Quijote

Often known as Donki, this discount shop is... an assault. Noisy, hot, busy, and cramped; if you feel claustrophobic, it's not for you. However it sells some of the most confusing, hilarious items you'll ever see. Christmas tree shaped gimp mask? Check. Powder to turn your bath into jelly? Check. As well as hilarious tat, they also stock genuinely good things, like cheap Kodak Instax film in a range of colours, a million flavours of Kit Kats, and extensive amounts of Gudetama merch. Oh, and some are open until 5am, if not 24 hours. Drunken, post-karaoke shopping spree, you say?


7. Mount Zine

Inside an unassuming, traditional wooden Japanese shop in Meguro is Mount, a zine library, shop and art gallery. Twice a year they have an open call for makers and artists to submit their zines, and everything is for sale. Go along, buy some super zines and get inspired to make your own!


8. Pass The Baton

In a basement on the busy Omotesando shopping street is Pass The Baton, a reuse shop with a twist. Alongside every pre-owned item for sale is a tag, with a story or a little about it's former owner. Apparently there are items owned by famous people, if you know enough about Japanese popular culture to appreciate that! There are some really interesting antiques, jewellery, clothes and even some up-cycled and handmade items. Worth a browse for unique souvenirs! 


9. Mooosh Squishy Shop

When visiting Harajuku, make sure to step off of Takeshita Street and visit Mooosh, a shop selling squishy things. Yep, a shop filled with soft, squishy, scented characters and floppy fake bread and fruit! They also have a ball pit like area, filled with squishy strawberries, perfect for taking some cute photos.


Do you have any favourite shops in Japan, or are there any that are on your wish list to visit? Please let me know! 

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