Konyoku describes a mixed onsen (hot spring) in Japan, where, traditionally, men and women completely stripped off and bathed together, just as they would in a gender-separated onsen. The concept may be puzzling and a bit flustering for some, but essentially that’s what it was. History tells us that when it first came around hundreds of years ago, it was a pure activity and one that the Japanese happily carried on for generations.
Nowadays, there are only sprinkles of konyoku still existing across the entire country: from more than 1,200 in 1990, to less than 700 today! What a massive change. To say that there is a singular reason why they are declining would be incorrect. However, major factors such as increased numbers of foreigner visitors coupled with their negative perception of mixed-gender bathing definitely has a major influence.
If you’re interested in experience a konyoku in Japan, we suggest doing it on your next trip, as there’s no guarantee that the onsens will still be around in the near future. Below we’ve listed a bit of information to shed light on any questions or misconceptions you may have. Hope you enjoy this interesting read!
Mixed Onsen (Konyoku) – History
Konyokus have a long, dated history in Japan, with the first ones coming into existence hundreds of years ago. Over time, it’s become an accepted part of Japanese society; an activity wholly accepted by men and women everywhere, and one that’s entrenched in their culture with feelings of normalcy. They were once found easily across all the regions in Japan, but have, in the latter part of the 19th century, exponentially dwindled in numbers.
According to some history buffs, konyoku are said to have become a norm during the Muromachi period (1392-1573). However, by the Edo period (1603-1868), the discrepancy in experience across all konyaku caused by the disruptive behaviour of certain bathers (mainly men) resulted in the government attempting to ban mixed-gender bathing. Since then, lobbyists and the pro-mixed-gender-bathing community have fought long and hard against having them completely banned, citing that they’re well and truly part of the Japanese culture; a deep-rooted tradition that is purely Japanese and to erase them would be to erase a part of the lifestyle in Japan.
The biggest downturn for konyoku came about in post Edo period, when Japan began opening up its trade to westerners. Some of the first influencers who travelled into the unique country of Japan were highly impressed by what they saw, but were also extraordinarily vocal about what didn’t sit well with them, and that included mixed onsen. They saw this as lewd and inappropriate. This negative view of konyoku forced the Japanese government to set strict laws to try and phase out these onsens to improve the overall image of the country. Since then, konyoku have been slowly, but surely, disappearing.
Why Mixed Onsen (Konyoku) Are So Rare Now?
One of the biggest reasons why konyoku are so rare today is because of the patrons and their questionable behaviours. You might be inclined to think that the majority of them are foreigners unaccustomed to the way of the Japanese mixed onsen etiquette, but in fact, this unsavoury group also encompasses the Japanese (often men) who use the opportunity to participate in lewd acts.
Take, for example, the closure of the famous Fudo-no-Yu in Shiobara back in 2015. This extremely popular konyoku had to close indefinitely due to “repeated offenses against public morals” – i.e. groups of men and women participating in indecent acts. Whilst it has been reopened again to the public, things have inherently changed. For example, there is now an attendant at the once-unsupervised onsen. It also requires women to wear a yugi (special bathing suit).
As mentioned before, a common reason why attendance at konyokus have dwindled and thus caused their inevitable closure is the bad manners and indecency of bathers, more commonly men, but we’re not ruling out women here either. There have been instances where bathers would lurk in konyokus for a while, not doing much but staring a great deal. They’ve been given the nickname ‘wani’, aka crocodiles.
Unfortunately, because of this, many konyoku have had to close over time.
In saying all the above, there are still thousands of people in the community who are protesting the overall extinction of konyoku. For example, Takashi Ninomiya, editor of the inaugural Onsen Hihyo magazine, lamented on the idea that “There’s an amazing sense of community when you decide it’s ok to get naked and hang out together, rather than just being ‘Me, me, me’ all the time.” This is a sentiment that is at the same time both bizarre and unfamiliar as a westerner, but also highly relatable as a human being. Families in areas such as the northern Tohoku region are particularly sensitive about this, as they are especially accustomed to bathing together, and even up until the late 1990s were still doing it. For them, using konyoku brings forth a sense of community and of peace amongst the people.
Another major reason why mixed onsen closed overtime is apparently the post-world-war period. We discussed with a lot of Japanese people about this subject as it’s pretty controversial and not a lof of information can be found online. And what a lot of locals reported is that the US government, after winning the World War 2, used its power to force Japan to change their culture in different ways, including Konyoku. Bathing naked with men and women is definitely not in the western culture and according to the locals we met, the American government put pressure on Japan to stop this activity as soon as possible.
To conclude, there’s not only one reason why mixed onsen are disappearing. It’s rather a mix of factors that are impacting the Konyoku in Japan. But don’t be too disappointed cause we can still visit some of them and that’s what we are covering below.
Mixed Onsen (Konyoku) – Where To Find Them
If you’re interested in this style of bathing, there is still time to experience it! Whilst it may be difficult to track down one that is easily and conveniently accessible, they are still operating in various regions around Japan. We have listed below some of the more popular options for you to peruse:
Miyato Ryokan in Chichibu, Saitama
This onsen is located in Saitama prefecture which is not too far from Tokyo. If you are staying in Tokyo city and you want want to experience a mixed-gender hot spring, this one may be convenient for you. Chichibu area is actually pretty amazing so feel free to stay overnight and explore the region.
- Address: 77 Arakawashiroku, Chichibu, Saitama 369-1912
- Access: Walk 10 minutes from Shiroku train station
- Price: 1500 yen
Rurikei Onsen, Kyoto
If you’re after an onsen that’s a bit more family-friend, then consider Rurikei Onsen, located just an hour drive outside of Kyoto. There are multiple onsens within this establishment to choose from, mixed gender included, but for those families to want something additional for their kids, there’s also the “onsen pool” alternative which require a bathing suit to access.
- Address: Hirotani-1-14 Sonobecho Okawachi, Nantan, Kyoto 622-0065, Japan
- Access: From Sonobe Station, it is a 30-minute bus ride. Otherwise,
- Price: 700 yen
Hirauchi Kaichu Mixed Onsen, Kagoshima
This beautiful onsen is set right on the shoreline of the ocean on Yakushima Island, and consists of three stone baths. Its water is naturally filled with the ocean as well as a warming sulfur-rich hot spring. It is absolutely stunning during all hours of the day, as it’s literally just you, the onsen, and the big open sky. It operates with an honour system, where you place a 100-yen coin into a box just before you head to the onsen.
- Address: Hirauchi, Yakushima, Kumage District, Kagoshima 891-4406, Japan
- Access: From Miyanoura Port, it is a 60-minute drive.
- Price: 100 yen
In the gorgeous little town of Minamioguni in Kumamoto sits Hozantei, a quaint Japanese inn which boasts a gorgeous mixed gender bath that sits right amongst the glorious surrounding nature. Enjoy views of the pond and river in peace and serenity. Note that to access this mixed gender onsen, you will need to book a room at the Ryokan. They do not provide day-passes.
- Address: 6346 Manganji, Minamioguni, Aso District, Kumamoto 869-2402, Japan
- Access: When you make a reservation here, make sure you let them know how you will arrive, as they offer free shuttle services to and from the station. Otherwise, it’s a 75-minute drive from Higo-Ozu station.
- Book an overnight stay here
Fukumotoya Kabeyu, Oita
With a history dating back more than 300 years, this konyoku simply oozes rustic Japan vibes. It’s unique in that it’s set inside a small cave, and everything from the Stoney path to the ceiling of rocks to the view of the lush greenery surrounding it will transport you back in time seamlessly. This onsen is set within the grounds of Fukumotoya Ryokan, however they allow day visitors.
- Address: 57 Machida, Kokonoe, Kusu District, Oita 879-4723, Japan
- Access: It is a five-minute drive from Hikiji station.
- Price: 300 yen
Dantoukan Kikunoya, Shiga
For a more premium mixed gender onsen experience, the hot spring experience offered at Kikunoya ryokan is a great choice. It’s a stone open-air bath that lays just below a wooden pavilion, creating just the right amount of privacy and open-ness. From there, you will be able to take in views of the beautiful Lake Biwa.
- Address: 6 Chome-1-29 Ogoto, Otsu, Shiga 520-0101, Japan
- Access: From JR Oto Station, it is a 5-minute bus ride.
- Price: 5,000 yen for 60-minutes.
- Book an overnight stay here.
Tsuboyu Onsen, Wakayama
Located in the quiet, assuming onsen town of Yunomine Onsen, Tsuboyu onsen is one of Japan’s oldest hot springs, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This tiny bath house sits within a small wooden hut, and can only be used by up to two people at a time, in 30-minute increments. First, you purchase a ticket in the nearby vending machine, swap it with the attendant at the booth for a number, and wait for your turn.
You can also read up more on Yunomine Onsen here.
- Address: Japan, 〒647-1732 Wakayama, Tanabe, Hongucho Hongu
- Access: From Shingu Station, it’s a 30-minute ride.
- Price: 770 yen for 30-minutes
Yumori Tanakaya, Nasushiobara City
Located within an authentic Japanese ryokan, this gorgeous open-air onsen set in amongst the nature that is Nikko National Park. It is only an hour away from the popular Utsonomiya City, making it the perfect quiet escape. To access it, you will need to walk down a flight of steps (more than 300 to be exact!), and you will be presented with two stunning baths. Women can access these baths with a towel (men must go naked), and there is also a women-only section. You can also go at night, when the baths are illuminated!
- Address: 6 Shiobara, Nasushiobara, Tochigi 329-2921, Japan
- Access: It’s only an hour drive from Utsonomiya City.
- Price: 1,000 yen
Spa World, Osaka
Spa World is a unique bathhouse amusement park located smack bang in the middle of the city. It features various floors of different styles of baths, each showcasing the different styles of baths from around the world! Whilst most baths are actually gender separated, the eighth floor is a mixed-gender area, where families, friends, and couples can bathe together with their swimmers. It’s got a fun atmosphere, albeit it does get a little loud, and may not be the full authentic experience you imagine. Bonus points for it being in a convenient location.
- Address: 3 Chome-4-24 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, 556-0002, Japan
- Access: It’s a 5-minute walk from Nankai Dentetsu Shinimamiya station, which is a 13-minute train ride from Osaka station.
- Online Booking
Mixed Onsen (Konyoku) – The Do’s and Dont’s
The topic of nudity within gender-separated onsens is already a touchy subject amongst foreigners, let alone the additional dos and don’ts of mixed gender bathing. If you’re planning to head to a konyoku, keep in mind the following:
- Even though it is a mixed gender affair, you still need to adhere to the age-old rule of no bathing suits unless it’s obviously stated otherwise.
- Some konyoku might work in a way where women have their own baths, but can join men in their baths through one-way doors. Men cannot and should not ever enter the women’s section. The other facilities, including lockers and showers, may still be mixed.
- Certain konyoku will allow women to be covered up with a towel. If so, these towels will be handed to you at reception. Men almost always go completely bare. However, they may use the smaller towel provided by the konyoku in the water to cover up if they wish. Konyoku are the only onsens that allow towels to go into the water.
- Do not stare! An obvious one but still, it doesn’t hurt to remind people.
- Women, if your hair is long enough to touch the water, you will need to tie it up.
- Similar to regular split-gender onsens, do not converse loudly, i.e. obnoxiously. Onsens are meant to be a place of rest and relaxation.
Mixed gender bathing is a polarising topic, but a thoroughly relaxing and unique experience that can be enjoyed if the patrons are respectful and well-informed. A trip to Japan may not need a trip to a konyoku to be ‘complete’, per se, but if you do gather the courage to experience one, then we guarantee it will stick to you for years to come.
PS: If you are looking for more articles like this one, make sure to check out these blog posts: Japan Travel Tips.