The first time you go for an onsen, you may be shocked to find out that unlike the stars of Japan Hour, you don't get a towel big enough to cover your whole body. You can choose to cover either the front half or the back half. The sense of shyness and shock from this realisation is the first stage of the onsen experience.
But there’s no need to worry, when you realise no one is staring at you, you’ll lose this sense of shyness straight away. After a few times, you’ll soon be able to carry on a conversation with a stranger while in an onsen.
The water may be too hot for you at first, but if the image of slow-cooking crustaceans come to mind, this is not the time to start making resolutions about not eating seafood again. After all, Japan's seafood is delicious. However, if after a few minutes or so the water is still too hot for you, get out immediately. Sometimes, onsens have pools with different degrees of heat and you may have gotten into the hottest one.
When you find a pool with the right temperature, it’s time to soak in the water and relax. After a few minutes, you’ll start to find yourself getting less and less tired. Soon, you’re ready to continue that long day of walking. Actually, forget walking, you’re ready to hike to the mountains. But wait, after a while, this energy goes away and you enter a very relaxed state where all you want to do is fall asleep on your nice comfy futon after the onsen. Congratulations, you have reached the stage of relaxation.
EVEN the Dragonflies like onsen too!
Firstly, if you’re in an outdoor onsen, beware of the insects. I’ve had dragonflies tailing me and it was not a comfortable experience. This is especially so if you come from a concrete jungle like Singapore and have little to no experience with insects. Please please please don’t decide to kill the insects. Just move away (or indoors).
Secondly, after about 30 minutes or so, you may feel your face heat up and feel sweat trickling down your body. You may even start to feel dizzy. If so, get out of the onsen and take a cool shower. You’re feeling the effects of what is known as yu-atari. While onsens are very relaxing and supposedly good for your health, you should get out as soon as you feel unwell. Don’t worry if you think you haven’t fully enjoyed the onsen, some places let you go in and out as many times as you want, so you can always come back after a break for lunch.