The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or the kanji 湯 (yu, meaning "hot water").

Sometimes the simpler hiragana character ゆ (yu), understandable to younger children, is used.

Traditionally, onsens were located out of doors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well.

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Onsens should be differentiated from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water.

The legal definition of an onsen includes the requirement that its water must contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements, including such minerals as iron, sulfur, and metabolic acid, and be 25 °C or warmer before being reheated.

Stratifications exist for waters of different temperatures.

is a Japanese hot spring and the bathing facilities and inns frequently situated around them.

As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout its length and breadth.

Onsens were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism.Onsens come in many types and shapes, including outdoor .Onsens are a central feature of Japanese tourism, typically found out in the countryside, but there are a number of popular establishments still found within major cities.They are a major tourist attraction drawing Japanese couples, families, or company groups who want to get away from the hectic life of the city to relax.Japanese often talk of the virtues of "naked communion" for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of a ryokan with an attached onsen.Japanese television channels often feature special programs about local onsens.