Visiting an onsen and wearing a yukata are two things pretty high on everyone’s bucket list for Japan. But can or should you wear a yukata when you go to a Japanese hot spring? After visiting several onsens and asking my Japanese friends, I came to the following answer:
When you stay at an onsen ryokan or in an onsen town it is common to wear a yukata. Especially when you do onsen hopping and plan to visit several hot springs. However, when you go to a public onsen or bathhouse it is usual to wear regular clothes.
Wearing a yukata and going to an onsen can be quite daunting because of all the dos and don’ts. But in my experience, you only have to be careful when you put on a yukata and when you are staying at a western-style hotel and I will show you why.
Do You Wear Yukata to Onsen?
Yukata (浴衣) are Japan’s traditional and original bathrobe. Even the word yukata translates as “bath clothes” or “bathing clothes”. The first Kanji 浴 means “bathe” and the second Kanji 衣 means “clothes”.
Originally yukata were only worn after taking a bath. They are made of cotton fabric to help absorb any remaining water and moisture. And in contrast to the more formal and heavy Kimono, they can be put on and fastened quickly and easily.
Over the years the usage of yukata has changed a lot, though. They are not only worn as a bathrobe anymore but have become a popular summer garment. All over Japan, you will see Japanese men and women wearing them when visiting summer events like bon-odori festivals or firework displays.
Nowadays yukata are worn more often when going to a matsuri in the summer months than when visiting an onsen. However, in traditional ryokans, they are still the typical garment for guests. And in onsen towns, it is a very popular activity to stroll around in a yukata to explore the city and to do onsen hopping.
When to Wear Yukata to Onsen
In an onsen ryokan or a hot spring town like Kinosaki Onsen or Kurokawa Onsen, for example, it is perfectly fine and normal to wear a yukata on the way to the onsen facilities. In general, you can change into the yukata before going to the onsen or after taking the bath. There are no guidelines and this is totally up to you.
In most traditional ryokans, you can wear the yukata anytime during your stay and you can also wear it to breakfast and dinner. But sometimes, some ryokans may ask their guests to wear regular clothes and no slippers when entering the restaurant. If that is the case they will explain it to you when you check in and you will also find it in the written instructions in your room.
In onsen towns, it is also common to wear the yukata when just strolling around outside. Even in winter. Most ryokans will allow their guests to go outside and explore the city while wearing their yukata.
However, when they haven’t told me that it is okay or when I can’t find it explicitly mentioned in the instructions, I always check with them before I leave to explore the town. Just to be sure.
So luckily most of the time you will be just fine wearing a yukata to a hot spring spa. I only remember one occasion when I couldn’t do so and I am going to explain it to you in the next section.
When Not to Wear Yukata to Onsen
A lot of western-style hotels also provide yukata for their guests. However, these yukata are pajamas and you are not supposed to wear them outside of the hotel room. Even if the hotel has onsen facilities.
One time, for example, I stayed at a fancier western-style hotel with nice spa and onsen facilities. The hotel had yukata, but they were intended as sleepwear, not loungewear.
So the hotel had signs in the elevator and the room asking the guests to wear normal clothes when going to the onsen (and the breakfast buffet).
The signs were written in Japanese and English. And honestly, just from looking at the clothes, you could tell that the yukata was a pajama. Even if I would have been allowed to go to the onsen with those I probably wouldn’t have done it.
I have only experienced this once so far, so it is not common. In other western-style hotels it was allowed to go to the onsen wearing your yukata pajama. My tip for you if you are unsure: check the signs in the elevator and the onsen instructions you have in your room. They are usually very detailed and explain everything you have to know before your soak.
Can it be Wrong to Wear Yukata to Hot Springs?
So wearing a yukata to an onsen spa when staying at an onsen ryokan or a hot spring town is perfectly fine. But is it wrong to wear a yukata when you go to a public onsen? Or when you go to a sento (public bath) in cities like Tokyo or Osaka?
I have been to many public onsens and communal bathhouses in cities all over Japan and so far I have never seen anyone wearing a yukata to one of these. Except for the aforementioned onsen towns, of course.
My Japanese friends also said that they have never done this and that it seems a little bit awkward.
If you wear a yukata in summer in Tokyo or Osaka, people will just think that you are on the way to a festival or a hanabi (firework festival). Once you enter the onsen some people might be surprised, but I’m pretty sure that nobody will say anything. I have never tried this myself, though.
If you are dressed in a yukata outside of summer it will be pretty strange and I’m sure a lot of people will look at you. But I can’t imagine that the owner of the onsen wouldn’t let you in.
Would I do this, though? Nope, I wouldn’t. Except for the summer months, I personally only wear a yukata when I am in an onsen town.
So there is nothing wrong with wearing a yukata to a public onsen or sento, but it is uncommon. As long as you don’t want to stand out, I wouldn’t recommend you do it. For the wear-a-yukata-to-onsen experience better visit one of the onsen towns.
Do Japanese Wear Yukata to Hot Springs?
From my personal experience, I can say that most Japanese like to wear yukata when they are staying at an onsen ryokan or when they visit an onsen town. It is also a really popular activity among Japanese and young Japanese couples to stroll around the town in their yukata.
I have also found an official survey that reached the same conclusion. In the online survey, about 16.000 Japanese were asked when they change into the ryokan yukata.
The top answer, with 55%, was that they like to change into the yukata after taking a bath. 20% of the Japanese answered that they change into it before going to the onsen. And only 15% answered that they don’t wear a yukata at all.
When do Japanese change into their ryokan yukata?
|55%||after taking a bath|
|20%||before taking a bath|
|15%||don’t wear yukata at all|
|6%||immediately after arriving|
|4%||when going to bed|
I got the data for this table from this Japanese article published on youpouch. The article is written in Japanese, so I am afraid most of you won’t be able to read it, but in English, the title of the article is “When should I wear a yukata at a hot spring inn?”.
How to Put on and Wear Yukata to Onsen?
Basically, there is only one thing you need to be careful about when putting on the yukata. When you wrap it around you first fold the right side and then the left side. So the right hem is always under the left hem.
Another frequently asked question is what do you wear under your yukata. Usually, it is just underwear. Men just wear boxer shorts or briefs and women just wear a bra and panties. If this feels too cold you can also wear an undershirt.
The last thing I would like to mention is the obi. When going to a festival it is fastened very beautifully at the back. However, ryokan yukata are fastened at the front and less elaborately. Here is a video, but I am going to add a guide for this in the future.
What is the difference between yukata and kimono? Yukata are made of cotton and look more casual while the more formal and traditional kimono are made of silk or brocade. Another difference is that kimono have two layers and are worn all year round while yukata are only worn in summer.
Can foreigners wear yukata? There are important rules to follow on how to wear a yukata but any person can wear a yukata. When you visit Japan in summer you will see many foreigners wearing yukata. So just make sure to wear it right.
What to wear to Onsen? As we discussed in this article you can wear a yukata when you are staying at an onsen ryokan or when you are in an onsen town. Inside you will usually just were slippers. Otherwise, just wear your regular clothes and shoes.