How to Enjoy a Japanese Bath While Respecting Tradition

In Japan, it isn’t “taking a bath” but “entering hot water” and you do not get out of the bath but “rise from the hot water.” If you can adopt this simple mindset, you will easily come to accept and enjoy this wonderful Japanese tradition.

The Japanese ofuro—Taking a bath at home

The Japanese are a culture steeped in tradition and dictated by convention. The Japanese bath is just one example of an age-old tradition that continues to flourish and be accepted as part of modern-day Japan. Ofuro is the term for a Japanese bath, which first consisted of a deep, wooden square tub but is now made of stainless steel or plastic, except for top-of-the-line luxury models. Typical of traditional Japanese, the used bath water is often recycled for another day’s bath or for laundry via a suction hose attached to a nearby washing machine. Communal bathing is not something to freak out about since it is also tradition that anyone using the ofuro must first be completely clean before entering. In short, the hot (38-42 degrees Celsius) Japanese bath can be considered as the last phase in one’s daily bathing routine-a time to relax.

There are different sizes for Japanese bathtubs depending on the number of people in the house, available space, and whether or not they will be for commercial use. Apartments often feature an ofuro that requires crossing your legs to sit comfortably, while a family-size ofuro is just as deep but long enough to stretch your legs.

Japanese onsen manners

Japanese public baths are called sento or onsen. The difference between these two is that an onsen is heated through geothermal systems or natural hot water.

The most common response of a foreigner to the Japanese public bath is the fact that it can be done among strangers or members of a family; even coworkers can go together to a public bath. If you are new to this Japanese tradition, simply think of it as something akin to going to a public sauna, hot springs, or Jacuzzi. Before taking your first trip to a sento or onsen it is important to understanding the following:

●     Men and women are separated.

●     No swimsuits, underwear, or flip-flops are allowed.

●     There are no toilets; they are placed in a different room.

●     Tattoos are almost always prohibited.

Prior to entering the bathing room, you have to pass the first room where you will find a shower, sink, and lockers. The bathtub is located in another room. Before getting into the tub, rinse yourself in the shower. Some people like to rinse quickly, step into the tub, step out to soap, and then get back in to relax. However, it is highly recommended to completely clean your body first before entering the bathtub. This means soaping, shampooing, and rinsing from head to toe. It is intimidating to do this on your first try, but adopt the motto “when in Rome” and you will quickly get used to it.

Japanese onsen shower and storage baskets

Onsen etiquette dos and don’ts

Finally, here are few dos and don’ts to help lessen the number of stares while partaking in one of Japan’s most popular pastimes.

●     Do rinse after the bath.
●     Do keep your voice down; no shouting or yelling, no giggling or talking loudly. This is a time for peaceful relaxation.
●     Don’t bring your towel into the bath with you-even a small wash cloth. A towel that touches the water is unacceptable.
●     Don’t bring any food or drinks and pretend you are in a Jacuzzi unless it is a private bath.