I’ve been to a Korean bathhouse (jjimjilbang) once before where I had to strip down completely. Not willingly, though. The tour guide thought it would be hilarious to not tell us what we were getting into.
It was a mortifying experience for me, especially as a 14 year old, and not the least bit liberating. I figured out pretty quickly that I was not into exhibitionism at all. I do love bathhouses and onsens… just not the nudity and lack of privacy.
When I was in Japan, I knew I had to visit an onsen. Fortunately, Hakone is only an hour away from Tokyo by train and is well known for its public onsens but also beautiful ryokans with private onsens. The price for a decent ryokan with a private onsen starts from around $500/night which was way out of our budget for this trip, so we booked a private onsen at Hakone Yuryo instead for 5,000 yen (around $60/hour). It’s a great way to have a private onsen experience for an affordable price!
There’s a free shuttle bus from Hakone station that only takes 3 minutes to get to the resort (see the bottom of their website for more details).
The path through the resort is surrounded by trees which was instantly calming. Staff were warmly greeting and handing out treats to guests waiting in line. Because we had booked a private onsen, we were fast-tracked to the front of the line (to our embarrassment and delight).
Note: most onsens in Japan don’t allow visitors with tattoos but mine are easily hidden under normal clothes so I was able to get into our private room without any issues.
The room was surprisingly large - with a seating area, mini fridge and sink. You can even purchase the bottles of water they have in the fridge (but bring your own if you can).
I have an unhealthy obsession with long, really hot baths so I was concerned that an hour wouldn’t be long enough, or the water wouldn’t be hot enough but boy, was I wrong. The Japanese really do love their hot baths and I was not disappointed. An hour is plenty of time, and it’s likely you won’t spend the entire hour in the water. Don’t forget to hydrate afterwards and use the free lotion they provide (your skin will feel amazing).
For anyone that wants to experience an onsen in private, I highly recommend Hakone Yuryo. It was such an amazing and relaxing experience that Kevin and I wanted to book it again the next day but we didn’t have enough time.
It’s easy to book up to 1 month in advance via email (their English is fantastic). If you are staying in Hakone for a few days and have a Hakone Free Pass then you can also present this to get a 10% discount!
Have you ever been to a public bathhouse or onsen before? I’d love to hear your thoughts or funny stories!
photographer + lifestyle blogger
i love adventures of all sizes, capturing little moments, daily coffees and kind, wholesome human beings