Onsen (温泉) is the Japanese word for hot springs; quite literally, at that, since 温 on is "warm" and 泉 sen is "spring". Japan is a very volcanically active country, resulting not only in frequent earthquakes, but also an abundance of hot springs throughout the archipelago. Traditionally, onsen were located outdoors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well. Onsen by definition use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs. Onsen should be differentiated from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water. Major onsen resort hotels often feature a wide variety of themed spa baths and artificial waterfalls in the bathing area (打たせ湯).
Man - otoko
Woman - onna
Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. A particular onsen may feature several different baths, each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made with tile, acrylic glass or stainless steel. Many bathers come for only an hour or so to soak in the waters. Food also plays an important part in the attraction of a particular inn. While other services like massages may be offered, the main reason most people visit the onsen is to enjoy the baths.
Traditionally, men (top kanji) and women (bottom kanji) bathed together at the onsen, as they did at the sentō, but single-sex bathing has steadily become the established custom since the opening of Japan to the West during the Meiji period. Mixed-sex bathing persists at some onsen in the rural areas of Japan, which usually also provide the option of separate "women-only" baths or different hours for the two sexes, although young children of either sex may be seen in both the men's and the women's baths. People often travel to onsen with work colleagues, as the relaxed and open atmosphere helps to break down some of the hierarchical stiffness inherent in Japanese work life. However, most visitors to onsen are not work groups but friends, couples and families.
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