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In what will be the last entry in my Baka Gaijin series (for now anyway), we will explore the many ways to be a baka gaijin at a Japanese public bath, or sento. Last week we learned How to be a Baka Gaijin While Eating, so to wrap things up this week, I thought we should go with something nice and relaxing like a bathhouse. Their serene and peaceful atmospheres are the perfect setting for copious amount of baka gaijinity. Let’s begin.

1. Wear a Bathing Suit

At all public bathhouses in Japan, you get a small towel and that’s it. No big towel to wrap yourself in, no board shorts, no polka dot bikini, no nothing. Japanese people enjoy these warm baths the same way they came into this world: butt naked. Shall you follow suit? Hell no! You’re a baka gaijin and you have the right to wear whatever you want, when you want. They call them private parts for a reason – they’re private. So wear your brightly colored swim wear and completely disregard the fact that it’s not allowed. You’re a proud baka gaijin, they’ll understand.

How embarrassing~!

People bathe naked at public bathhouses in Japan. That’s just how it is. You can use that little towel they give you to try and cover up, but they can only cover so much. So you can either make the decision to get over your embarrassment with naked bodies, break the rules and get mean-mugged by everyone there, or just not go to a sento at all. It’s your choice.

2. Enter the Wrong Bath for Your Gender

So you’ve decided to ditch the bathing suit (how brave of you), and are now ready to enter the bathing area. What’s this? There are two different ways to go? No one told us about this. Might as well just waltz right into one of them like a man and hope for the best, right? You’re a baka gaijin and people expect these things. The door on the left it is. Oh, oops – it’s a bunch of naked grannies and now they’re throwing their dentures at you.

Just like bathrooms in Japan, it is important to know how to distinguish the female entrance from the male entrance. There won’t always be a little picture of a man/woman or English writing on the doors, so it’s always a good idea to know what the Japanese characters for man (男) and woman (女) look like.

3. Don’t Shower and Just go Straight into the Bath With Your Towel

Now that it’s finally time to enter the bath, you see a row of people washing themselves off with little showers. But you didn’t come here to take a shower, you came here to take a bath. So you take your little towel and cover your body as best you can with it while you scurry over to the baths. And since being under the water isn’t enough privacy for you, you dunk your little towel in the water as well to drape over your privates. Ahh, relaxing.

Sound advice, kids.

Like I mentioned in How to be a Baka Gaijin in the House, when taking a bath in Japan, you’re supposed to shower first so that you don’t dirty the bath water with your human filth. So, by skipping the showers beforehand, you’ve introduced a lot of grime into the baths for everyone else to get on themselves. Well done. You’re also not supposed to take the towel in with you either. You’re supposed to leave it by the side of the baths or drape it over your head if you’re hoopy and froody enough. But what do you know? You’re just a baka gaijin after all.

4. Engage in Horseplay then Pee in the Water

All this bathing in relaxation nonsense is getting way too boring for you. You’ve had just about enough of this placid and calm junk. These public baths need some real entertainment. So you start playing music on your cell phone, playing catch with your best friend Phil across the bath, and yelling at your girlfriend Michele on the other side of the wall to see if she can hear you over there (she can’t). And then you just get so excited with it all that you pee in the water. Hey, people do it in pools all the time and the water is already warm in here anyway. Who’s gonna notice?

What makes you think I peed in the water?

Everyone. Everyone will notice. The water in most all Japanese public baths contains a special chemical that turns the water and your body bright purple if it mixes with urine. As such, this baka gaijin act easily takes the cake for the most baka gaijin thing you can do while at a sento. These bathhouses are meant to be a place for people to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Japan. People are quiet and respectful of everyone else in there. It’s basically like a library with water. And nudity. And no books.

5. Rinse Yourself Off With Tap Water

Alright so you survived the bath. Good job. Regardless of whether or not you made the choice to clean yourself off before you got into the bath, you decide to shower and wipe yourself down before you leave. It’s not like you know that the minerals in hot spring water used in sento are often beneficial, and washing them off will stop them from taking full effect. Who needs health benefits? Not you, that’s who. Baka gaijin are resilient and strong.

Being Naked Makes Me Uncomfortable and Stupid

Yes, being naked can make people shy, embarrassed, or uncomfortable and more likely to follow the conventions of a traditional Japanese bathhouse. But no, not you. You’re a baka gaijin and you brought a swimsuit, dove right into the bath, yelled at your friends, and peed in the water. Baka gaijin to the max.

You got yourself (and your friends) kicked out, your body is stained purple, and you have a great story to tell everyone back home about how you totally owned those silly naked Japanese people and you’d gladly do it again given the opportunity. Well said**

Oh, and for those of you who want a more straightforward approach to the ins and outs of public baths in Japan…

Japanese Bathing Etiquette by JapaneseGuestHouses.com
Bathing Etiquette by SentoGuide.com


So tell me, have you ever had the opportunity to go to a public bath in Japan? I haven’t unfortunately, but I know some people that have. Ever seen anyone make some of these baka gaijin errors? Ever made any of them yourself? Let us know in the comments!


[Header Image]

**Please realize that this post is mostly satire and is supposed to be funny. I am aware that gaijin are not the only ones who perform the faux pas in this series of baka gaijin posts. They are just meant to draw attention to some mistakes people might make while in Japan in a humorous manner.
Hugs and kisses <3 J

  • HokkaidoKuma

    Up here in Hokkaido we have a plethora of onsen and sentos around.  At first, it’s a pretty awkward experience, but after the 1st or 2nd time, you forget about being naked and just start to relax.  Before you go in, just know the basic etiquette; it isn’t very obvious but it’s also not hard to learn quickly.

    Something to watch out for that wasn’t mentioned in the article are TATTOOS.  It’s not uncommon to go into bathhouses to see signs that don’t allow people with tattoos.  Just be weary of that if you have ‘em.
    Lastly, if you’re hesitating about going to an onsen because you’re afraid of being seen naked, you’ll get over that very quickly.

  • HokkaidoKuma

    It depends on the Onsen / Sento. Some places will have a very strict code and enforce the rules to a T.  A guy I knew wasn’t allowed in because he had a small tattoo on his ankle.  

    Whereas other places will have the ‘no tattoo’ policy but not enforce it.  One time, I kid you not, there was a guy in the Onsen that had the traditional style yakuza looking tattoos from neck to ankle.  Whether he was an actual yakuza member or not, I have no idea.  And the Onsen never said anything to him nor kicked him.  

    Though, I’d say, a lot of places are somewhere in between.

  • Jace Robinson

    If and when I visit, I will be making a point to visit a quiet town in the snowy hills to enjoy a dignified evening in the peaceful baths. I think it will just be so relaxing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1082043594 Joe LeBeau

    The tattoo thing is something I’ve been curious about. I’ve done some reading around the internet and heard a lot of varying information about tattoos in Japan (in general). Some people say not to even try to go to an onsen, beach, or anywhere you may have to expose yourself, while others say it’s not such a big deal. I have to imagine that it’s going to vary between regions, so I guess I’ll  probably just have to take my chances when I go to Japan =X

  • Guest1

    Being a fat gaijin (at least to Japanese standards) i’m worried of prejudice towards me if i were to visit one. Is there likely to be anything like this?

  • Selchie

     I went to an onsen with a “no tattoos” rule. My Japanese hostess had never noticed the sign. I got dirty looks, but figured it was just because I was gaijin, and they expected me to behave badly. But after about 10 minutes, an attendant came over and very nicely told me I had to leave.

    In the dressing room, I noticed some young women with large bandages over this & that area. I suspect they were covering up their tats. Next time, I’m first making a stop at a drug store.

    From what I hear, not all onsen are like this.

  • http://twitter.com/WackoMcGoose Kimura

    Fortunately, I can just avoid the whole thing by the fact I don’t have any tattoos, and probably never will. It would be kind of cool to have a bodysuit, but I can’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1258860151 Jorden Allen

     Yes and No.  The Japanese (obviously) have a very different relationship to their bodies and the idea of the body than us westerners (I guess, I’m assuming you’re a westerner ;) From what I’ve experienced, and of course there is some generalization here, you’re body isn’t something to be ashamed about – it’s a part of you, and it is what it is.  For example, in the US & Europe, you would never ask someone their weight or comment on their body for fear of being rude.  This stigma doesn’t really exist in Nihon. But they’ll never make fun of you, so worry not!  Any staring would mainly revolve around your obvious gaikokujin-ness ;)

    That being said, my friend had a little more to love, and her host mom always remarked about how she should eat more vegetables and be healthier.  Of course it was never mean, she just cared :)  I’m sure she would have done the same thing to her daughter.  Again, the idea of the body being more than just a thing and something to be cared for, is something very attractive to the Japanese.  Body and mind are one, and all that jazz :) (once more, sorry for the generalization)

    Moral of the story: It’s, at worst, an interesting experience and a good story (what person doesn’t love a story about someone else’s perceived mortification haha)

    At best, it’s an eye-opening experience that let’s you connect with yourself in a way that you wouldn’t have otherwise (you have to arrive at some kind of new perspective to strut your naked stuff)

    My experience was somewhere in-between.  I’m pretty comfortable with my body, but being naked in public was a new one!

    TL;DR: You’re fine! I promise It’ll be an interesting/great experience!

  • Pratyeka

    I’m not that thin myself. I went to an onsen ryokan-type place in Hakone, and the two older ladies who were there when I was were perfectly nice about it…until they saw my back, which has a huge tattoo. Then they scuttled out pretty quick. It didn’t have a no-tattoo rule, but large tattoos just generally aren’t ok to most Japanese people. I can’t say that no one will ever make fun of a large foreigner, but that wasn’t a problem for me.

  • John

    Funny thing – in some parts of Japan it’s common to stand on the left and walk on the right but in other areas it’s just the opposite.

  • guyhey

    The “general” rule I’ve found, which may be a rule only because of my limited perspective, is if it’s a really busy trafficed area then “stand of the left, and walk on the right.” If it’s not so busy then all bets are off. Also, the width of the escalator seems to impact the mentality. If it’s narrow then people tend to just stand, and not walk.

  • guyhey

     You’re good. Not everyone in Japan is a twig either. On average they are thinner, but that’s the average.

    I’ve never seen a Japanese person be nothing but cool with people of various body types.

    The biggest thing I’ve noticed is young kids, age 2-4 on average I’d say are more inclined to stare at your eyes. Of course this mortifies their poor mothers. ;)

  • FoxiBiri

    Hmmm I read a few comments below about being stared at at onsens especially because you are a gaijin… but that wasn’t my experience. When I went to an onsen in Nikko with my friends we all had a lovely time and I don’t think anybody remarked on if they were stared at or not. 
    Not to mention, after you leave a locker room and enter the bath areas it’s usually too foggy to see anything at all xD 

    I understand life for a gaijin can be hard, there are days we may just want to stay in our rooms where we can feel un-judged, but that’s no fun and that’s not why we came to Japan anyway. So for everyone who thinks they’re being stared at, just ask yourself if maybe you look extra nervous today. Gaijin-ness will follow you everywhere that isn’t your home town or country. So perk up, hold your head high and shoulders back and be confident in who you are damnit! Because as long as your confident in how you hold yourself and how you’re going about your business nobody decent will mind your presence more than anyone else. 

    Oh and don’t be scared to bring your friends with you. Company will always lighten the mood :) and you’ll get over the whole naked thing in a matter or seconds anyway.

  • John

    I just noticed it was swapped for sides between the Kansai region and the Kanto region when I was there. I forget which was which though, lol

  • Mischa

    Hi, I am the guy running SentoGuide. I highly doubt the chemical that turns the water purple is true. I took over the site from someone else, but I assumed he put that in as a joke. If people take it seriously, maybe I should take it out.

  • http://www.sentoguide.info/ Mischa

    If your bladder control problem is so serious that you think you may pee in the bath accidentally, you shouldn’t go to sento in the first place. But anyway, I highly doubt the chemical that turns urine purple is true.

  • guyhey

    If you’re looking to do a new series I would love to see a compilation of experiences you and other Tofugu users have had in Japan. I suspect there are a lot of great stories in these comment sections that sometimes don’t get noticed much, or they are worth featuring again.

  • Anonymous

     That does not make any sense. My body is entirely male looking bar my genitals down below, so it would most definitely be weird and uncomfortable going in the wrong bath. I wouldn’t do it.

    Especially to say, if I am going with people *who do not know I am transgendered.* I would not want to out myself to coworkers and friends unnecessarily.

  • John

    Oh, awesome – thanks for commenting. I found the thing about the chemical here too: 
    http://bambichan.tumblr.com/post/97567117/the-search-for-mixed-onsen

    but haven’t seen much about it anywhere else. It’d be nice to have a definitive answer, but I’m not about to encourage people to go peeing in sentos, lol.

  • http://onsenmeijin.com/ Mischa

    Looks like they copied it from SentoGuide. In onsen they are particular about the pureness and quality of the spring water, so I am sure they don’t add some chemicals to show if someone’s peeing. In sentos, maybe, but I doubt it.

  • John

    Yeah, that’s about what I figured.

  • androapple

    in Kansai you stand on the right. (I live in Kyoto) in Kanto, you stand on the left.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edwin-Snell/699780244 Edwin Snell

     wow.  how about…just go to the place where everyone has the same MAIN PARTS as you?  Got a dick?  Go to the men`s side.  Sweet Jesus.

  • Rachael Sachse

    So is the small towel entirely there to cover the privates on the way between shower and bath?
    Also, I had friends who went to hot springs/baths and had gasps of awe about their breast sizes (DD and E respectively), near to the point where touching was happening, and expected to be allowed >_>

  • Anonymous

     Maybe you should read the above comments. That is not a sensible idea. You obviously have no experience with transgenderism and do not understand what it is about.

    I’m going to stop commenting on this topic now, I didn’t want to diverge from the article topic as much as I did and I don’t wish to start any arguments.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I’m glad you brought the topic up, because it was something I was curious about and not something I had any experience with. I’m glad that a trans person could help set the record straight.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Transgender issues aren’t just about what kind of genitalia you have. There are lots of ways you represent gender, and oftentimes, the genitals are the last part considered since they’re the least visible. So if a person has long hair, a feminine face, and wears female clothes, and has breasts, but still has male genitalia, then I don’t think that the distinction becomes so black and white.

  • Martijn

    My wife and I went to a public onsen near Nikko. Now I have to explain that I am quite heavily tattooed (full body suit in Japanese style) so I asked upon entering if it would be a problem showing my arms and legs (I was wearing shorts)… but I’m also quite obviously not Japanese looking and the kind people at the onsen just smiled and said it wasn’t a problem…
    So my wife went the ladies way I went through the gents’ door (so far so good), got naked (check), showered thoroughly (check). Now at this point I will admit to getting some strange looks from the men and kids there. So I thought “must be the tattoos, just try and be as polite and unobtrusive as possible” and keep most of your body underwater..

    Well as soon as my big toe hit the water, everybody in the direct vicinity got up and moved to the other end of the bath (it was quite large curved bath a good 6 meters long I think). Left me sitting by myself. Giving my dirty looks from the other end of the room. hehehe.

    I felt quite awkward and I didn’t want to be a nuisance to anybody so I got out after about 15 minutes decided it was enough tension for that day.

    When I later returned home a friend told me it could have had to do with the fact that I was European and as he put it “they just think you’re dirty, period. Not matter the amount of showering…”

    Guess I’ll never know but it wasn’t the relaxing experience it’s usually described as.

    My wife had grand old time by the way, with the local ladies showing her around the bath house and explaining her how it’ all done (hot bath, cold bath, hot bath etc.)

    anyway that’s my experience of (unwittingly) being a gaijin baka in an onsen.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    > oftentimes, the genitals are the last part
    > considered since they’re the least visible

    I’m thinking in a public bath with no apparel or towel, that might not be entirely the case.  Call me crazy.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    I have just one question…
    > or just not go to a sento at all. It’s your choice.

    Supposing you opt to avoid public baths (perhaps because they’re just a little TOO distinctly Japanese — or ancient Roman — for your blood), does this mark you out as a horribly uncouth baka gaijin? Or is it possible to just politely say, “No, thank you for inviting me, but I believe I have, umm, something [else] to do, so I will not be able to go to the public bath today.” Is this okay, particularly if you do it every single time the subject of public baths comes up? Does it insult their culture to avoid participating in this particular custom?

  • John

    Yes, that. Thank you.

  • Gigatron

    I would never be caught dead in in a sentou. I despise the idea of public bathing. Heck, I even avoid beaches and swimming pools like the plague. I simply don’t feel comfortable in that sort of environment. If I want to soak in water, I have a bathtub where I can do that privately, and not have to worry about rules or any such nonsense.

    But, to each their own, if someone likes sentou, then all the more power to them. In fact, I’m jealous of them, I wish I could enjoy it too.

  • Jeremy Eades

     Jonadab:  That’s the whole point of this conversation.

  • Jeremy Eades

     It’s off and on, and sadly one of the reasons I can’t get a tattoo.  Some places enforce the rule more than others.  I think it’s mainly if some prude complains, they have to chuck you out.

  • Jeremy Eades

     Beaches are no problem.  Onsen are hit and miss, and often depend on the staff and other guests.  Often if they can’t see it, it’s not a problem.

    At the public school I worked at, tattooes were a no-no.  My coworker couldn’t wear short sleeves even in July.  Offices as well, depending on how conservative the office culture is.  I’ve heard (friend-of-a-friend thing, so take it with a grain of salt) of people being told by their bosses to “get rid of” a tattoo, and basically shaving/slashing it with a razor blade to keep their job.

  • nobeatenpath

    I honestly don’t get the ‘ooh, couldn’t be naked thing’ about sento/onsen – everyone else is! Really, are you that hot/freaky that you think it will be all about people staring at you? I once went in to a local sento (I was told later I was the first gaijin they had ever seen) with blonde hair, not ‘matching collar and cuffs’ and a navel ring. The old grannies took an unobtrusive look out of curiosity but nothing over the top, and went back to bathing. It really is no big deal. My husband took our son to public baths and the old dudes had a good laugh watching our young (six year old) son dealing with the hot water and such, but they never once felt uncomfortable being naked around strangers.

    On our trip to Japan last year I missed a lot of bath action as I now have a large tattoo on my back and there were some places I would have liked to go but they had no tattoo policies. I think it is changing as more young people get tattoos and it is less of a yakuza thing, but there are still plenty of places where it is the rule.

  • Nishimichild

    I went to a sento in Tokyo with two other girls. Being an all-gaijin group, we were emphatically introduced to the laminated instruction sheet that showed cartoon characters scrubbing their skin off before getting into the water. Being naked (friends or strangers- I’m not sure which one was weirder) was awkward at first, but people didn’t really stare as much as I thought they would. There were a lot of different baths to choose from: boiling hot, freezing cold, neutral, and even an electric one that would give your butt a little buzz when you sat down. After a while everything felt very natural, and I even had a conversation with a nice Japanese lady about the sento experience. Afterward, I felt clean and relaxed… for about 5 minutes (this was August, after all).

    I would definitely go again. The only bad thing I can think of were the random ‘OMG, I’ve seen you naked’ thoughts afterward.

  • ChesterBogus

    I just want to point out that I’m white, and I had to teach my Japanese step children NOT to jump into the onsen without taking a shower. I gave them a very stern “What the hell are you doing, you idiots?!” And made them take a shower.

    Thing is: no one in the onsen really seemed to even notice us, and it was mostly empty anyway.

    Is calling this series of articles “baka gaijin” supposed to be ironic or something? Cuz I really, really hate that word, and the whole concept of foreigners being clueless all the time. And on top of that, these articles tend to almost always portray that vague Japanese arrogance that you always feel when they try to explain Japanese culture to you – this is stuff we’ve all read in our first year Japanese text books. We don’t need anyone to expl-

    Oh. Right. So if you need this explained to you, then you’re a baka gaijin.

    Whatever. Gaijin is a stupid word.

  • Jonathan Wong

    “I am aware that gaijin are not the only ones who perform the faux pas in this series of baka gaijin posts. They are just meant to draw attention to some mistakes people might make while in Japan in a humorous manner.”

    It’s not only gaijin who commit these mistakes.  It’s just a catchy title!

  • waste

    Not true. I got tattoo on my forearm (circle shaped about 5×5 cm). I’ve been in Kyoto and used two different sento. Of course I always asked the staff is it OK to enter because I knew they could be against it. Never got any issues with that. On the other hand, my tattoo is not so big, maybe they just allowed me because it was obvious I am no harm for them (no traditional Japanese tattoos covering large body areas). Hard to say. Either way – it was great experience. I am not the shy guy so I got no problems to go naked and I knew the rules in prior. Great experience – must repeat when I go Japan next time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.r.turner David R Turner

    I went to the bath in a small hotel in Osaka, and followed all the ‘rules’ – getting in butt nekkid was easy as I was the first one there – but as a bunch of octegenarians joined me, getting out was a bit tricky for my Canadian pasty-white behind…

  • Seruma Chan

    I tried going in with a bikini but all the japanese women stopped me and said “NO”. Well.. I tried!

  • WarOnMugs

    I miss onsen and sento so much… I got very used to it, and loved the feeling of ease, walking around with your junk out, soaking in the hot-ass water etc.. The only time it was awkward was when my school co-workers all wanted to go together: a little too much looky-looing from the ojisans I worked with on a daily basis.

  • http://twitter.com/waitingforshoet Hadenoughalread

    Oh boy…I’d better stay home. The towel is just not enough coverage!

  • Ivy

    Why did you troll Luffy-san’s kawaii face?! XDX

  • http://www.jlist.com Peter Payne

    Asking a country as homogenous as Japan to get in sync with you on an issue like this is absolutely impossible. Please don’t come here.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Don’t worry, I won’t try to force my views onto the entire nation of Japan :o)

  • http://www.facebook.com/lava.princeton Lava Yuki

    oh god, i wud never be a baka gaijin! I knew about the sentou before, so i followed all the rules cuz i dnt wanna leave a bad impression of gaijin. Its stupid people who break the rules that get foreigners banned frm sento.

  • Lachie

    When I went on a school Japanese trip, we all awkwardly went into an onsen and didn’t speak to each other. The next day however, we raced to get there.

  • Rawr

    As of the summer of 2013, in Kanagawa at least, there were prominent signs displayed at *every* umi-no-ie on the beach saying “NO TATOO” (their spelling, not mine.) Having said that, I noticed a couple of staff members had something peeking out from their clothes. Prob best to cover up, even with just a towel or bandage if you’re looking to get something to eat or drink. :/