In Japan, the right way to take a bath is very important to know, as it differs from the western way. Baths are usually taken in public bath houses (sentou) or natural hot springs (onsen). There are of course apartments with their own tubs, but the usual process is the same everywhere.

Part I: The utensils!

First of all, a list of things to bring to the bathhouse.

Some provide these things for free or rent, but it's always better to bring your own.

Part II: The preparation!

When entering the bathhouse, you remove your shoes, and put on your indoor slippers. You put the shoes into a small cupboard, which usually can be locked. Then you go up to the counter, and pay the fee, usually 400 Y, and enter one of two curtains. Be careful, though, as this is not Monty Hall. You don't get to choose, one passage is for male only, one is for female only. Which is which may change from day to day, so watch out. Usually the color coding and kanji help.

Then you undress (fully), put your stuff in a basket, take the small towel and your cleaning utensils, and enter the main bath room. When moving about, always remember to hold the small towel in front of your you-know-what, so as not to shock the other patrons! You sit down an a small chair in front of a tap, and start cleaning yourself thouroughly:
  • Using a small wooden or plastic bucket, you wet your body.
  • Use soap and use it generously, everywhere on your body.
  • Don't forget your back (here the small towel comes in handy), your feet, toes, neck, ears, genitals, crack, etc.
  • Rinse once more using the bucket.
  • Rinse some more, until there is no soap left.
  • Repeat as needed (and then some!).

After thoroughly cleaning yourself a couple of times (this should take you upward of ten minutes at least) and making sure once more there is absolutely no dirt or soap anywhere near your body, you wash out your small towel and approach one of the pools. But be absolutely sure to be perfectly clean at this point. For safety, best go for two more rounds of cleaning yourself.

Part III: Finally, the bath!

Done? OK, now is the time to enter the tubs. Be careful, these are hot! Also remember to take care not to put the small towel into the water. It remains outside, near yourself, or rests folded up on your head. Never in the water!

Now you soak until you've had enough. You deserve it after scrubbing your skin raw. You should keep quiet, as loud talking is considered impolite/rude, but it might be all right if only you and your friends are there. Just enjoy the hot water. There usually are various pools one can switch between, and sometimes a sauna, which alwas costs extra (to be paid in advance on entry of the sentou). Usually these pools are: Hot, piping hot, are you mad?, cold, electroshock (yep, just like peeing against an electric fence, and moonview (even if there is no way to see the sky from that pool). Sometimes there also is an outside pool, called rotenburou, which is very refreshing with the fresh and colder air to freshen you up, whilst your body is still soaking. These are very nice.

Part IV: The End:

When you finally had enough, and feel well all around, you exit the pool, wash yourself once more (or take a quick shower), and exit the main bath room. After letting off steam for a while in one of the provided seats (don't forget where to put the small towel...), you get dressed. After that, go home, and try to avoid catching a cold, as I almost always do...

All right, you've done it, you've successfully taken a Japanese bath without offending the locals.

Oh, before I forget, there is a couple of other rules to keep in mind, which are displayed near the pool, but these are not worth mentioning, I think. Or would you think of doing your laundry in the pools? Thought so...! Although someone must have done it at some point... Makes one wonder, doesn't it?