Those of us that are Fanatik about anime know this picture well. The heroes all decide to go to a hot spring for a break, usually with very funny scenes happening. Like the hilarious hot-spring episode in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu where Sousuke, Kaname, Tessa, Kurz, Melissa, and the rest of their friends travel to an onsen (Japanese for hot-spring) for some rest and relaxation before Tessa returns to Merida Island. Sousuke sets up a defensive perimeter and booby traps around the girls’ bath, foiling the other boys’ attempts to sneak a peek. It is a classic episode much loved by fans of the anime. In Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden there are also a few funny scenes with Naruto and Jiraiya at hot springs, classic Jiraiya, tries to do ‘research’ for his next book by sneaking a peek at the ladies.
Onsen are natural (mostly) hot springs, enjoyed for relaxation and health all over Japan. The Japanese are very passionate about it, and it is said that, with maybe a few exceptions every Japanese person have been to one. Japanese onsen used to be mixed sex, but since the westernization of the country began in the Meiji-era is has become very rare. Nearly nine out of ten onsen are now either separate baths for men, or for women.
There are thousands of onsen in Japan and can be found at hotels, ryokan (inns), pensions (Japanese Bed & Breakfasts) and manshons (small apartments) but also, there are public and private onsen, not part of any hotel or residence. Going to an onsen have its interesting etiquette and rules too. Like removing your shoes (because onsen always have traditional Japanese floors (tatami) in the change rooms) and the fact that you must shower first before going into the onsen. Here are more things that you must remember to do at an onsen: http://bit.ly/Onnsen_Need_to_know
There are also taboos regarding onsen and people that have tattoos. People with tattoos must cover them up, since in Japan tattoos are seen as gangster (Yakuza) related. Special patches are given to people with ink on their skin to cover them for the duration of the visit at the onsen, but if your tattoos cover your whole body, you are prohibited from entering the onsen! Very sad news for a lot of Westerners that have tattoos and love anime and would like to try an onsen in Japan. Luckily some onsen have a more open-minded policy, so you might just find the hot spring that will not have a problem with the ink on your skin. Here is a nice article explaining in more depth why tattoos are such a taboo. Please follow the link if you want to learn more: http://bit.ly/tattoos_and_onsen
Onsen might seem weird to Westerners because of the public nudity and the weird little chairs outside the actual onsen but it is an experience to enjoy too. Some people however might not like onsen and here is an article telling us more about why it is the case. Please follow the link: http://bit.ly/Reasons_no_Onsen
Here is an article about signs that you might find at an onsen. Some of them are funny because of the language barrier between English and Japanese, especially when you have no idea what those pictures mean. Have a look by following this link: http://bit.ly/onsen_signs
Thinking only humans love hot springs? Have a look at this! Follow this link: http://bit.ly/ape_about_onsen