Soak, Relax & Repeat: A Halal Ryokan Guide

Soak, Relax & Repeat: a Halal Ryokan and Onsen Guide for Muslims Visiting Japan

The great thing about traveling in Japan is that each city can be experienced in different ways. Whereas the adventurous among us can’t wait to get their gear on to climb Mt. Fuji, others prefer to relax and enjoy the stunning volcano from a distance. That’s why we offer different types of tours throughout the year, so that everyone can enjoy the Japan of their dreams.

On our Soak & Relax tours we combine sightseeing with wellness. 

This means lots of nature, lots of slow travel and of course at least the experience of jumping into a traditional Japanese hot spring (onsen). We offer these tours for both mixed and ladies-only groups, and mostly in autumn and winter, as that’s when a relaxing soak can be best enjoyed.

Read on to learn more about traditional Japanese stays, and how to enjoy a Japanese onsen modestly – or the halal way.

What exactly is an onsen?

Onsen simply means hot spring in Japanese, which is a bath where the water is not manually heated, but rather heated by earth. Onsen, or hot spring, is therefore different from sento, which is a type of public bath facility where you can bathe with normal, heated tap water. Onsen water smells different, feels different, and has different (health) effects on the body.

Types of onsen

Certain areas in Japan are particularly famous for their great quality and diverse onsens. The Southernmost island of Japan named Kyushu, for example, is home to over 9500 onsen hot springs, which takes up 35% of the total of Japan’s onsens. Not all onsens are for soaking, however, as some can be boiling hot (up to 100°C, nicknamed Hell’s Onsen) and some are for being “buried under”. These sand baths onsen are located on top of onsen sources and naturally heat the sand. A 10-minute sand soak alone is enough to sweat all the impurities out of your body. This time we’ll focus on how to enjoy onsen at a ryokan.

A Muslim-Friendly guide to staying in a ryokan

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, where the rooms typically feature tatami mats and futon beds (which are rolled out on the floor to sleep). You’ll always find communal onsen baths at ryokans, which are often (but not always!) separated in women’s and men’s sections. You are not allowed to enter the water with any type of clothing or swimwear, however, meaning you’ll have to soak in your birthday suit (naked). You may not be comfortable with this, and if you’re Muslim, you are not allowed to bathe in these instances.

Luckily, there are ryokans that offer private onsen baths, either included in your room, or as a separate room that can be reserved at the front desk. On our tours we always stay at ryokans that offer private baths, so there won’t be any worry for you while traveling with us!

The room

As mentioned above, traditional ryokans often have tatami-matted rooms and thin futons instead of beds with mattresses you’re familiar with back home. While the futons are thin cotton-made mattresses, they’re actually very comfortable and help you to have a great night’s rest. The rooms are spacier than most hotel rooms in Japan, as ryokan rooms are meant for guests to spend longer times in, to dine in, and to lounge in. 

There will be sleep wear or yukatas (a casual type of kimono often worn in ryokans) available, as well as room slippers, bathroom amenities such as towels, shampoo, body soap, tooth brushes, hair brushes and more. If you’re particular about the products you use, you might want to bring these with you just in case. Depending on the ryokan, you’ll have complimentary drinks like water and green tea available as well. As ryokans are oftentimes located in nature, many rooms feature large windows for you to enjoy the scenery.

It is important to check whether your room has a shower/bathroom included before booking! As guests typically stay at a ryokan to enjoy the onsen, there may not be shower/bathing facilities included in your personal room. If there are no private baths available, you may not be able to shower during your stay if you’d like to avoid communal baths.

Before you enter the onsen bath

It’s customary to have a quick shower/rinse before actually entering the bath. This is to prevent any dirt from entering the water and to make sure your body is clean before you enjoy your hot soak.

You’ll find small shower stations available, which almost always include shampoo, body soap and conditioner that you can freely use. Make sure to tie up your hair, so that no hair strands will float in the water or on the floor.

Finally, entering the onsen bath

First things first, don’t jump into the water. In communal baths this is considered rude, but even in private baths it’s important to not treat it as a leisure pool. Onsen water can be slippery, so it’s better to prevent any accidents from happening.

Onsen water can be quite warm, depending on the facility. It’s recommended to not stay too long in the water, as it will tire you quickly and may make you feel light-headed due to elevated heart rate/blood pressure. The recommended duration is 15 to 20 minutes at maximum.

After the soak

Make sure to rinse and wash yourself again after entering the onsen bath, and to dry yourself completely before entering the changing room.

Hot springs can be quite tiring as well. It’s important to not rush to any activities, but to take some time to rest before you go on with your day. Many ryokans offer public resting areas, where you can sit and rest, or you can just head back to your room to lounge.

Breakfast and dinner at the ryokan

Oftentimes guests choose to enjoy breakfast and dinner at the ryokan, as ryokan stays are mostly a relaxing experience rather than a “sleep-only” type of accommodation. Meals may be brought to the room, or the ryokan may offer an open buffet instead.

Most of the time you’ll have to inquire beforehand if there are halal or vegetarian options available, and even with vegetarian options you’ll have to confirm if there isn’t any type of alcohol used. Some ryokans are Muslim-friendly and may offer Muslim-friendly meals (although often not halal-certified, these meals are free from non-halal ingredients).

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