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An onsen is a Japanese hot spring (and the bathing facility or inn situated around it) and is a traditional public bathing place. Since it is volcanically active, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout all of its major islands. They may be outdoor (roten-buro) or indoor baths. By definition they use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs (unlike a sentō, an indoor public bath house which uses heated tap water), and its water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. Typically located in rural areas, they continue to draw couples, families, and company groups who want to get away urban hustle and bustle; Japanese often talk of the virtues of "naked communion" (hadaka no tsukiai)for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in a relaxed atmosphere. Traditionally, men and women bathed together, but gender separation has been enforced for more than a century, though mixed bathing (kon'yoku) persists at a few sites in rural areas, and they usually also provide the option of separate "women-only" baths or different hours for the two sexes; in some prefectures, where nude mixed bathing is banned, people are required to wear swimsuits or yugi, which are specifically designed for bathing.
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