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Onsen Japan – Onsen Etiquette & 12 Places To Visit

an onsen bath in Japan

Onsen are a naturally occurring phenomenon in Japan. Due to the country’s location along the pacific ring of fire (an area of much volcanic activity), onsen are everywhere.

There are more than 3000 onsen in Japan. If you visit one high up in the mountains, soaking under the stars or amidst snowflakes, surrounded by the quiet harmony of nature, you might even see Japanese snow monkeys bathing nearby.

If you’re thinking about visiting or working in Japan, going to an onsen should definitely be on your list of things to do! Here’s everything you need to know about onsen etiquette, and our top 12 best onsens in Japan, so you can put your best foot forward into your first Japanese hot spring experience.



a steamy onsen hot spring



What is an Onsen?


An onsen is a traditional Japanese hot spring bathhouse, where locals and travellers alike come to unwind, rejuvenate, and soak away the stresses of daily life. These magical places are dotted all across Japan, each with its unique charm and character. 

According to the Hot Springs Act (温泉法, Onsen Hō), an onsen is defined as “hot water, mineral water, water vapor and other gas (excluding natural gas whose major component is hydrocarbons) gushing out from the ground and having the temperatures or substances listed in Annex 1.” It must also have a temperature of over 25 °C, so, if you were looking for a cold dip into a wild swimming experience, you’re out of luck (here, at least).

What sets onsens apart is the use of geothermally heated mineral-rich water, believed to have numerous health benefits. As you dip into the steaming pools, it’s not just your body that relaxes, but your soul too. The mineral content in the water is said to do wonders for your skin, leaving you with a coveted post-onsen glow!

Whether you’re relaxing in a rustic outdoor rotenburo, or enjoying a more modern onsen facility, the experience is nothing short of poetry in motion.


Why are Onsen so Popular?


The widespread appeal of onsens can be attributed to a harmonious blend of tradition, natural beauty, and modern relaxation. For centuries, these hot springs have been an integral part of Japanese culture, offering a unique fusion of ancient bathing rituals with contemporary escapism. 

Beyond their historical significance, onsens draw people in with the promise of healing waters rich in minerals, believed to provide various health benefits, such as back pain and joint pain. 

The connection to nature further enhances the experience, with onsens often set against picturesque landscapes, ranging from snowy mountains to blooming cherry blossom trees. Who wouldn’t be relaxed whilst sitting in a hot onsen bath at the top of a cold mountain, looking down over Japan’s naturally beautiful landscapes?

Embracing communal bathing, onsen etiquette becomes a cultural immersion, offering a window into Japanese social customs.



Japanese snow monkeys relaxing in a hot spring



A Crash Course in Onsen Rules


Before you visit an onsen in Japan, you’re going to need to learn a little bit of onsen etiquette. Onsen are important to Japanese culture, so, as a visitor, you want to make sure to be as respectful as possible.

Follow these simple onsen manners below, and you’re sure to have a great time!



A person relaxing in an onsen on a hillside



No Clothes Allowed


No clothes or bathing suits are allowed in the onsen bathing areas. As somewhat sacred places, locals try hard to preserve the cleanliness of onsen, and tourists are expected to do the same.

Clothes and bathing suits can bring dirt and soap into the hot spring waters from outside and are, therefore, considered unhygienic. Instead of bathing suits, people use small towels to hide their private parts whilst manoeuvring the hot spring baths.

It’s not for everyone, so, if you are completely turned off by the idea of bathing naked in front of strangers, you could seek out a private onsen to rent, or find a facility where they allow bathing suits.



a graphic of someone taking a shower



Wash Before Entering the Onsen, Don’t Wash in the Onsen


It’s customary, polite, and hygienic to wash your hair and body before entering the onsen water, not whilst you’re in it (they’re not those kinds of baths), this keeps it clean for everyone. Nobody wants to sit in someone else’s dirty bathwater.

Here are some simple steps to follow for onsen hygiene etiquette:


  1. Before entering the changing room, you should try to wash your feet to help keep the area clean.
  2. Once you have changed out of your clothes, head over to the shower area.
  3. In the shower area, there is often a seat and a pail you use when washing your hair and body.
  4. After you have used these items, it is polite to give them a good rinse, and return them to their original position, out of respect for the people who will use them after you.
  5. Try also to be mindful in the shower area. Avoid splashing water on the people near to you with the shower head, as that could be a little embarrassing for everyone involved.
  6. When moving through to the actual onsen area, don’t wait by the changing room entrance, especially when you’re naked, for the sake of the comfort of other visitors.

After you have bathed, wipe yourself with a towel before returning to the locker room. This helps keep the area dry and clean for other visitors.



towels neatly folded on a mat



Onsen Towels


When visiting an onsen, it’s a good idea to take a couple of towels. A large one to dry yourself in the changing room and a small one to cover yourself and help keep yourself and the onsen area clean.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a towel, most onsen resorts will usually provide these, but it’s a good idea to check before you go, though!



Tie Up your Hair


When in an onsen, you should never put your hair in the water or fully submerge your head underwater, nor should your towel ever touch the water. This is considered unhygienic, and will earn you a number of frowns of disapproval.


Nobody wants to get another person’s hair stuck to them in the water, plus, with any shared water, there is a chance of sharing infection, so try not to submerge your head. It will make people feel uneasy. Towels are also seen as unhygienic, they may be dirty or have soap on them. If you want to take a towel into the onsen, you should rest it on top of your head.



a man with tattoos on is hands



No Tattoos Allowed


Now, to Westerners, this is going to seem like an odd one. In Japan, tattoos are banned in most public bodies of water, because they are associated with The Yakuza. The Yakuza is a Japanese organised crime syndicate, often referred to as the “Japanese Mafia.” This notorious criminal organisation has deep-rooted historical origins and has played a significant role in Japanese society.

Unfortunately, if you have a tattoo, don’t be surprised if you’re not allowed in a Japanese onsen. If it’s small, you may be able to cover it up with a bandage or a plaster.

It’s not the end of the road for you if you have tattoos, though, there are some Japanese hot springs that have done away with this mindset, and welcome people with tattoos; we’ve included them in our top 12 best hot springs, listed below. 

You could also consider renting a private onsen, this way, you shouldn’t have any problems, and you can enjoy the experience in peace like everyone else.



Be Respectful with Noise


Onsen are relaxing places, people visit them to unwind and clear their heads. You should always be aware of how much noise you’re making in the onsen and try not to disturb people around you.

As long as you’re not being rowdy, you should be fine.



Don’t Drink Alcohol or Bring Glass Around the Onsen


Drinking alcohol in an onsen is dangerous, just like it is to get drunk in any other body of water. If you get drunk, you could get into trouble in the water, and you might annoy other people, so avoid doing this.

Plus, glass bottles and cups can be dangerous. Everyone is naked at the onsen, and a smashed glass could result in some nasty injuries, so this should always be avoided.



a no swimming sign



Don’t Swim in the Onsen, Just Relax


No matter how big it is, onsen aren’t swimming pools (that means no slides, either, sorry!).

Again, onsen are for relaxing, and connecting spiritually. Don’t swim, jump, dive, or splash. If you do, you’ll most likely upset the people around you, and ruin their experience.



Do not Enter the Onsen from the Pouring Gate


The pouring gate is where the new, hot water is coming into the onsen. If you enter or sit there, it means that all the new, clean hot water has touched you.

This is considered unpleasant, no matter how clean you are, so, try to sit as far as possible from the pouring gate.



a no cameras allowed sign



No Phones or Photos


Onsen are traditional places of relaxation, and most people are naked. So taking photos is absolutely forbidden, for reasons we probably don’t have to explain!

You wouldn’t particularly like strangers taking pictures of you naked in an onsen, would you?



Avoid Looking at People


Just like people taking photos of you naked, you probably wouldn’t like it if someone was staring at your naked body, either.

Try to avoid looking at other people, you may make them feel self-conscious or uneasy.



a beautiful onsen town in Japan



Best Onsen Towns In Japan


Now you know all the onsen rules and etiquette you need to know, why not go and visit one!

In no particular order, here are 12 of the best onsen, and onsen towns, in Japan with indoor and outdoor bathing areas; complete with an overview, transport options, and cost* of each location.

  • Hakone Onsen
  • Kusatsu Onsen
  • Noboribetsu Onsen
  • Dogo Onsen
  • Beppu Onsen
  • Kurokawa Onsen
  • Yufuin Onsen
  • Kinosaki Onsen
  • Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen
  • Ibusuki Onsen
  • Arima Onsen
  • Nyuto Onsen village


* Please note that all costs, especially when converted into dollars, are true as of the time of writing (February, 2024)



Hakone Onsen


A traditional red torii gate rising from the misty waters in Hakone, Japan.


Hakone steals the spotlight in the realm of top onsen towns, boasting an impressive range of options for every taste. This mountain haven goes beyond the ordinary, featuring family-friendly onsen theme parks and upscale ryokan offering private hinoki baths, delivering the quintessential hot spring escapade. 

The Yunessun spa resort is a standout, tempting visitors with unconventional attractions like coffee and wine baths, hot spring water slides, and inviting cave pools. A departure from tradition, Yunessun introduces co-ed baths, allowing you to soak up the experience with friends and family without separation. 

For a serene retreat, Hakone Yuryo nestled in a forest offers both communal and 19 private onsen rooms, promising an intimate, open-air bathing experience. 

Getting there: 

  • Take a 90-minute Odakyu Romance Car ride from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station. 
  • Opting for the Hakone Freepass ensures a seamless journey with its comprehensive coverage of round-trip fare and unlimited access to local transportation, from trains and buses to ropeways and boats.

Cost for Hakone Yuryo’s public baths:

  • Weekdays adult fee — 1,600 yen ($10.71)
  • Weekends / holidays adult fee — 1,900 yen ($12.72)
  • Children (6 – 12 yrs) — 900 yen ($6.02)



Kusatsu Onsen


A picturesque wooden building in Kusatsu, Japan.


Another location not far from Tokyo is Kusatsu Onsen. It’s possibly the most famous and popular onsen in Japan. Legend has it that “the waters can cure every illness apart from love sickness”.

At Kusatsu Onsen, the bubbling hot waters are not just a soak but a carefully orchestrated performance. Instead of diluting the mineral potency of the warm onsen with cold water, a unique stirring method called yumomi is employed. This captivating ritual, showcased at specific times, is a testament to the dedication to preserving the therapeutic qualities of the onsen, believed to cure everything but lovesickness.

For a taste of this rejuvenating experience, head to Sai no Kawara Rotenburo, the most popular public hot spring nestled in Sai no Kawara Park. With an affordable entrance fee of ¥600, you’ll be treated to serene forest views and pure, steaming water. Don’t forget to grab some Yu no Hana hot spring powder for a piece of Japan’s healing minerals right in your home.

Beyond the onsen bliss, Kusatsu offers year-round attractions. In spring and summer, Mount Shirane beckons with picturesque hiking trails, while winter transforms the landscape into a skier’s paradise at Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort, open from early December to mid-April.

Getting there: 

  • Navigating your way to this onsen haven involves a scenic 2.5-hour weekend journey from Ueno Station on the Kusatsu limited-express train to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station. 
  • Alternatively, take the shinkansen or Takasaki line to Takasaki Station, then switch to the Agatsuma line, followed by a 25-minute bus ride to the Kusatsu Onsen bus terminal. 


  • Sai no Kawara Rotenburo entrance fee — ¥600 ($4.02)



Noboribetsu Onsen


A breathtaking view of hot springs nestled in the mountains of Noboribetsu, Japan.


Noboribetsu takes the crown as Hokkaido’s premier hot spring retreat, boasting an impressive array of eleven distinct thermal waters celebrated as Japan’s finest. This resort town is dotted with mostly expansive ryokan and hotels, each flaunting its hot spring baths. 

For day-trippers, several of these establishments graciously open their baths for a fee ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 yen. If you fancy a communal soak, there’s a centrally located public bath house to explore.

Renowned as Hokkaido’s top onsen destination, Noboribetsu’s hot spring waters, infused with sulphur, hydrogen sulphide, and fatigue-fighting iron, are a skincare elixir. These minerals not only pamper your skin but also lend the landscape a surreal touch, earning it the moniker “Hell Valley.”

Getting there:

  • Catch the JR Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, then hop onto the Hokuto Limited Express train bound for Noboribetsu Station.


  • 1,000 to 2,000 yen — ($6.69-$13.39)



Dogo Onsen


A hot bath building, softly lit from within, at night in Dogo, Japan.


Nestled to the east of central Matsuyama, Dogo Onsen stands as one of Japan’s oldest and most iconic hot springs, drawing tourists with its captivating bathhouses and numerous ryokan. This haven has been graced by the Imperial Family, adding a touch of prestige to its allure.

At the heart of Dogo Onsen lies the Dogo Onsen Honkan, a charming wooden public bathhouse with roots dating back to 1894. Inside, a labyrinth of stairways and bustling rooms creates an animated atmosphere, rumoured to have inspired Miyazaki’s renowned film “Spirited Away.”

Beyond the Honkan, Dogo Onsen unfolds a trove of attractions, including a vibrant shopping arcade, the Asuka no Yu secondary bathhouse, intriguing temples and shrines, Dogo Park, and a museum dedicated to Matsuyama’s esteemed figure, Masaoka Shiki. Wandering through the streets in yukata, ryokan guests infuse the onsen town with a delightful and tranquil ambiance.

Getting there:

  • Dogo Onsen Honkan is a mere four-minute stroll from Dogo Onsen Station, the final stop for three tramlines in the area.
  • This iconic spot is just a 20-minute tram ride from JR Matsuyama Station via tram line 5 or a 15-minute journey from Matsuyama-shi Station using tram line 3. 

Cost for up to 1hr in the Honkan:

  • Adults aged 12+ — 460yen ($3.08)
  • Children ages 2-11 — 160yen ($1.07)



Onsen bath soft-boiled eggs



Beppu Onsen


Renowned as the hot spring haven of Japan, Beppu unfolds its allure through eight distinct onsen areas, each a treasure trove of varied baths, from mud to steam, and even enchanting sand baths. While the journey may be a bit of a trek, the diverse bathing experiences make it a pilgrimage worth undertaking.

Don’t miss the Beppu Beach Sand Bath at Shoningahama beach, where you’ll luxuriate in volcanically heated sand with the backdrop of gentle waves. Dive into the ‘Hell Tour,’ a thrilling exploration of eight of Beppu’s hottest onsens, affectionately nicknamed ‘jigoku’ or burning hell. Keep an eye out for the hot-water-loving crocs at Oniyama Jigoku – they’re the stars of the show.

Getting there:

  • For the jet-setters, a 1 hour and 40-minute flight from Haneda Airport to Oita Airport followed by a 45-minute bus ride to Beppu Kitahama.
  • Alternatively, there’s scenic five-hour shinkansen journey from Tokyo Station. Opt for the Nozomi Shinkansen to Kokura Station, then transfer to the Sonic limited express bound for Beppu Station. A slightly longer adventure via Hikari and Sakura trains will add an extra hour with a transfer at Shin-Osaka Station.


  • Entrance fee for Beppu Beach Sand Bath — 1,500 yen ($10.04)
  • Entry for Oniyama Jigoku is 400yen ($2.68)  or free under the “Jigoku meguri” concession ticket for 2,000yen ($13.39).



Kurokawa Onsen


A fairy-lit river flowing through Kurokawa, Japan, surrounded by charming houses in a picturesque town setting.


One of Japan’s most enchanting hot spring retreats, Kurokawa Onsen in Kyushu, near Mount Aso, beckons with its scenic charm and nearly 30 inviting onsen baths. What sets it apart is the unique system – grab a delightful wooden tegata pass for ¥1,300, granting access to three hand-picked baths of your choosing.

Steeped in a history spanning over 300 years, Kurokawa Onsen holds tales of feudal lords finding solace on their journeys between cities. Today, the town still echoes its captivating past, with riverside shops and ryokans casting a nostalgic spell, especially when illuminated by the warm glow of lanterns each night.

Getting there:

  • Note that there are no direct trains to Kurokawa Onsen. Instead, catch a bus from Fukuoka Airport, a scenic two-and-a-half-hour ride costing ¥3,150 for a one-way ticket. 


  • Wooden tegata pass — ¥1,300 ($8.70)



Yufuin Onsen


A vibrant yellow fish swims by a house in the crystal-clear waters of Yufuin, Japan.


Nestled about ten kilometers inland from the bustling hot spring hub of Beppu, Yufuin emerges as a trendy hot spring retreat, flaunting its unique charm. Unlike traditional resort towns, Yufuin spreads its ryokan and hotels throughout, creating an artsy haven with scattered boutiques, cafes, and art museums along the main street.

Ditching the conventional onsen town vibe, Yufuin feels more like a chic shopping district where travellers can leisurely stroll, soaking in the artistic atmosphere. Yet, don’t be fooled – behind this stylish facade, Yufuin harbours a considerable number of lodgings boasting inviting hot spring baths, some even welcoming day-trippers.

Getting there, and transport costs: 

  • Kamenoi Bus offers 1-2 hourly rides between Beppu and Yufuin Stations, a scenic 50-minute journey for 940 yen ($6.29). 
  • Train enthusiasts can opt for a local train journey, taking around 80 minutes with a transfer at Oita Station, fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass and Kyushu Rail Pass.
  • For those on the road, the Kyushu Odan Bus offers a one-hour ride between Beppu and Yufuin for 1100 yen ($7.36), a pit stop worth making on the way to Kumamoto. Travelers can snag online reservations through Willer or Japan Bus Online.


Kinosaki Onsen


Delving into the world of traditional onsen culture can be a tad overwhelming for those not fluent in Japanese, with untranslated signboards and no-tattoo policies creating barriers to entry. 

However, Kinosaki Onsen breaks the mould, welcoming both locals and international visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant culture comfortably. The town, adorned with colourful rented yukata, ensures that all seven of its natural hot springs are tattoo-friendly. English maps, complete with stamp-marking pages, guide you seamlessly through the experience.

Far from the typical tourist trap, Kinosaki Onsen strives to make authentic encounters accessible to everyone. Beyond the soothing hot springs, a plethora of activities awaits – from guided zazen meditations to green tea picking, all accompanied by English-speaking guides.

Getting there: 

  • Kinosaki Onsen is a mere two-and-a-half-hour ride via limited express train from Kyoto or a three-hour journey by train from Osaka



Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen


Beneath the majestic gaze of Mount Fuji, Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen is a haven of relaxation and breathtaking views. The onsen’s warm solace, coupled with the awe-inspiring backdrop, makes it a must-visit gem.

Visitors can take a soak in soothing thermal waters while the iconic peak paints a picturesque panorama fit for anyone’s Instagram feed. The onsen’s facilities boast a perfect blend of modern comfort and traditional charm. With various baths to choose from, each visit becomes a unique journey. Whether you’re unwinding under the stars or enjoying the scenic beauty during daylight, Fuji Kawaguchiko Onsen offers an unforgettable retreat.

Getting there:

  • From Shinjuku Station (Tokyo), take the JR Chuo Line to Otsuki Station.
  • From Otsuki, take the Fujikyu Railway to Kawaguchiko Station.
  • You can also reach the from Tokyo by bus.


Ibusuki Onsen


Situated at the southern tip of the Satsuma Peninsula, Ibusuki is a captivating onsen town renowned for its unique sand baths, where visitors are cocooned in naturally heated sand. Along the coastal stretch facing Kagoshima Bay, the main downtown area offers a picturesque backdrop.

The go-to spot for this sandy indulgence is the Saraku Sand Bath Hall, a mere kilometre from Ibusuki Station. Here, guests, clad in yukata robes, are expertly buried in hot sand warmed by natural steam. After a blissful 10-20 minutes, it’s a sandy cleanse followed by a dip in the regular hot spring baths.

Getting there:

  • Reach Ibusuki Station directly from Kagoshima Chuo Station via limited express (50 minutes, ¥2300 one way, 3 trains/day) or local train (70-80 minutes, ¥1020, 1-2 trains/hour), both covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
  • The Saraku Sand Bath Hall can be reached from Ibusuki Station by a 15 minute walk or a five minute bus ride (160 yen), while the Satsuma Denshokan Museum can be reached by a 5-10 minute taxi ride.

Costs at the Saraku Sand Bath Hall:

  • Admission (sand bath and onsen, fee inclusive yukata): ¥1,100 ($7.36)
    persons with disabilities ¥600 ($4.01)
    middle school students and older, ¥600 ($4.01)
    elementary school students and younger, ¥360 ($2.41)
  • Admission (onsen only): ¥620 ($4.15)
    persons with disabilities ¥310 ($2.07)
    middle school students and older, ¥310 (2.07)
    elementary school students and younger, ¥150 ($1.00)

Arima Onsen


On the opposite side of Mount Rokko from Kobe’s city center, Arima Onsen is a popular hot spring haven easily accessible for Kobe and Osaka residents seeking a quick day trip or weekend escape. Despite its modern façade, the town maintains pockets of charm, with narrow lanes and wooden structures peppering the centre.

Arima Onsen’s compact size allows for delightful exploration on foot, unveiling hot spring sources, serene temples, shrines, and a quaint hot spring museum (¥200). The town boasts two distinct hot spring waters – the iron-infused Kinsen, revered for skin and muscle benefits, and the radium-rich Ginsen, believed to alleviate muscle and joint ailments.

Numerous ryokan graciously open their baths to day-trippers, with admission fees ranging from ¥550 to ¥3000. There is even a hot spring museum you can visit.

Getting there:

  • Commuting from Sannomiya or Shin-Kobe Station – a subway ride to Tanigami Station (10-15 minutes, 4-5 departures per hour), followed by the Shintetsu Arima-Sanda Line to Arima-guchi, and a transfer to the Arima Line to Arima Onsen Station (20 minutes, 4 departures per hour). The entire journey, costing ¥690, unfolds in 30-40 minutes, promising a seamless escape to Arima Onsen.


  • Admission fees ranging from: ¥550-¥3000 ($3.65-$19.92)


Nyuto Onsen village


In the mountainous landscapes of eastern Akita Prefecture, Nyuto Onsen is a captivating collection of onsen ryokan, each exuding traditional and rustic charm. With a history spanning over 300 years, Tsurunoyu stands as the oldest and most celebrated inn in Nyuto Onsen.

Despite its suggestive name, meaning “nipple hot spring” inspired by Mount Nyuto’s shape, the area’s hot spring water isn’t milky but boasts clarity. The eight ryokan in Nyuto Onsen, including Tsurunoyu, open their hot spring baths not only to guests but also to day-trippers for a fee during specified hours. Many ryokan feature both gender-segregated and mixed-gender pools.

Nestled within the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, Nyuto Onsen is a scenic 30-minute bus ride into the mountains above the enchanting caldera lake Tazawako, Japan’s deepest lake.

Getting there:

  • For a mountain adventure, hop on a bus from Tazawako Station to Nyuto Onsen (50 minutes, ¥840, hourly departures), making stops near most ryokan except Tsurunoyu, Kuroyu, and Magorokuyu.
  • To reach Tsurunoyu, alight at the “Tsurunoyu Onsen Iriguchi” bus stop, followed by a 45-minute walk to the historic inn. Staying guests should opt for the Arupa Komakusa bus stop (35 minutes, ¥630) to be picked up by the ryokan (arrangements must be made beforehand). If arriving by car, both inns offer free parking.
  • For Magoroku and Kuroyu Onsen, take the bus to the “Nyuto Onsen” bus stop, followed by a 10 to 15-minute walk to each ryokan respectively. Kuroyu Onsen arranges pickups for staying guests from the Nyuto Onsen bus stop with prior arrangements. Car travelers can enjoy free parking near each ryokan.


  • Tsurunoyu Onsen, day trip spa: 700 yen ($4.65)


Are You Ready To Visit An Onsen?


If you’re visiting the land of the rising sun, you should try to visit an onsen in Japan at least once. It’s an experience like nowhere else in the world.

There are so many things to do in Japan, it’s a good idea to work here for a while so you can explore all the attractions in your spare time.

If you’re looking for a job in Japan, head over to our job listings page now and see if you can find something that looks right for you.


About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.