Scattered through every major city in Japan can be found a series of cultural gems that lie in stark contrast to the chaotic metropolis they inhabit. Known as ‘onsen’, these public baths mark the quintessentially Japanese fusion between tradition and progression, culture and function. The onsen harks back to a time when not every household had a private bath, and thus the need for hygiene was facilitated by public open-plan bathing, often using natural hot spring water. These public baths were also social spaces where news was exchanged and business deals arranged. In today’s onsen, little has changed. There is a strict code of conduct for using the bathhouse- after paying a 300 yen (roughly $3 AU dollar) bathing fee, one is to enter the change room and remove all clothing. Bathing suits are not permitted, nor are tattoos (in Japan tattoos are heavily associated with the Yakuza, the largest crime syndicate in the country). From the changing room one proceeds to the bathing area, generally a pool filled with steaming water surrounded by a series of small showers. You must wash your hair and body before entering the onsen. Hair must be worn up, under a folded towel. If you do something wrong, fellow bathers will let you know (often with a swift poke to the ribs). And yet, despite the strict and at first quite daunting code of conduct, these spaces are primarily social and ultimately very relaxed. Older women chat from across the room as they soap each other’s backs, and although the language is unfamiliar the tone is immediately recognisable- they are gossiping, although about what or whom it is unclear. Perhaps the most remarkable and ultimately inspirational thing about the presence of onsen culture in Japanese day-to-day life is that the new, technologically advanced country has simply taken this ancient ritual into its stride, worked around it instead of over it, thus allowing both towering buildings dedicated to scientific progression and tiny wooden bathhouses to exist side by side. This, in my opinion, in the essence of Japanese culture. Both form and functionality, culture and clear-headed rationality play vital and simultaneous roles in this remarkable country.