Japanese onsen - bathing naked in public with a mastectomy?

Hi everyone,
Just wondered if anyone could help. My husband and I and 2 friends are going to Japan to Niseko to ski for 2 weeks leaving on Sat 20th Feb. I have been reading about ‘onsens’ which are natural hot springs where there are baths that you can soak in. They are very traditional and recommended as something for tourists to do. The etiquette is to go in naked - you have a small hand towel to cover you a little as you walk in but then you wash in one area and then go and soak in a tub. Men and women are separate. I had a mastectomy in 2004 (no reconstruction) and I’m just wondering how people will react in the onsen. I don’t really mind showing my one-sided chest but I don’t know how the Japanese would deal with this. For all I know it might be completely taboo for Japanese women to bath in public after a mastectomy and therefore I might get a negative reaction. Does anyone have any advice or experience of onsens?
PS I also have lymphoedema so I wouldn’t soak for long as it could exacerbate my arm swelling.

Hi - i wasn’t sue how many replies you were going to get so tried googling onsen mastectomy - hope this link puts your mind at ease…

theresa x

Hi Rowena,
I’m guessing that Niseko is up north if you are going skiing? I’m sure that you will have a fabulous time.

I had my first trip to Japan a few years ago (long before my diagnosis… to go to a family wedding), and I was fortunate to be able to stay in a really nice Ryokan which had a beautiful Onsen which faced on to a river.

I went into the baths with my Japanese sister in law while my boyfriend went to the men’s section with his brother. They also had a SUPER hot private bath for couples to use, and I have to say that I do think that if I ever went back, I would not be tempted to use that one because of the lymphoedema risk.

The women’s bath was a wonderful experience! I do think that Japanese women are curious about western women’s bodies , so you might get some glances your way, but I think it’s only natural really. On my visit there were women and girls of all ages (and shapes & sizes) bathing and I recall an elderly lady who was using a special upright tub. She was being helped to bathe by some of the others. I was the only western woman there and I felt totally at ease…the Japanese are so polite and considerate. I really wouldn’t worry too much; I would be very surprised if there were any taboos.
Everyone seemed to use the (tiny) washcloths to cover different parts of their bodies, some even wore them on the tops of their heads! You should be able to keep your arm up out of the water so you can enjoy a good soak!

I hope you have a really great trip; I’d be more worried about remembering all the rules about shoes & slippers!!!LOL. & don’t forget to wrap your kimonos left over right, right over left is for funerals!! I don’t ski, but we are hoping that our next trip there will be in the north…

Theresa: that forum link is really interesting!


Thanks you very much for your post, very reassuring. Yes, Niseko is up North (I think!). My friend has booked the trip and I’ve had so much else on I am completely oblivious of most of the detail.
Hadn’t thought about kimonas but that would be a fun thing to buy and wear. Mind you my husband is Indian and I have a sari which I still can’t put on myself :slight_smile:

Thanks very much for that - I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing it myself! I’m amazed there was a whole thread on the topic. I would just like to clarify that I was not worried the Japanese women would be rude or unkind but I just didn’t know the etiquette around mastectomies. I feel much reassured now.

Best wishes,