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How to Take a Japanese Bath

How to Take a Japanese Bath

For many, a bath is nothing complex. You just fill a bathtub with warm water and dump essential salts or make it bubbly. And you are done. Yet, some cultures make bathing a communal activity where people gather to spend time with each other or just some quality personal time. Turks, Koreans, Taiwanese and Japanese all share some form of a culture involving public baths. One common denominator may be Japanese colonial rule (except, of course, the Turks). Unlike the bathtub at home, these public baths can be massive and may terrify a first timer. Well, it doesn’t have to be so.

This is my guide on how to take a Japanese bath as a first timer. I am sharing with you both the “traditional” / “correct” way and what I think is my own “simple” version.

Etiquette

It is crucial, I think, to get your etiquette right. Common sense prevails in most cases.

Mind your own business and keep your eyes and hands to yourself. Japanese baths are purely nude affairs so it would be terribly awkward if you were “caught” staring or evaluating the person next to you.

Since its a public bath and everybody sharing the baths, be considerate to your fellow brothers/sisters. Don’t spit/urinate into those pools. It’s really disgusting.

Don’t be a pest or be seen as a pest.

The “Correct” way to take a Japanese bath

There are 5 steps in all.

Step 1: Rinse yourself down well before going in for a soak as a common courtesy to your neighbours. Nobody wants a contaminated bath.

Step 2: Having rinsed yourself down, go for a soak. Depending on the bath house you are in, there may be different types of baths available. Salt baths, soda baths, iron baths, sulphur baths and a cold bath. Bath houses may place small signs beside each bath explaining the benefits of that bath. Take your pick and see if any of the available baths are beneficial to a pre-existing medical condition. This is just the first soak to help open your pores and also loosen/break up the layer of “persistent” dirt on your body.

Step 3: Once you are done with your first soak, you should go back to the washing area. Get yourself a stool. Give it a good rinse before plopping down on it. Soap yourself down well and give yourself a good scrub to remove all those dead skin cells and dirt on your body.

Step 4: Once you are done, you can go back in for your second soak. This is the time for you to really enjoy the bathing experience. You can either pick a particular bath for its medical benefits or rotate between the baths. Personally, I prefer the latter as you can have some rest time as you move from bath to bath. If you are really up for it, you can consider alternating between a hot bath and a cold bath. This supposedly helps with blood circulation. My suggestion is to do it slowly as it might be too sudden if you are not used to the temperature changes. For me, I actually felt dizzy after I went in too fast.

Step 5: Having soaked to your heart’s content, finish up the experience with another quick shower.

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My simpler version on how to take a Japanese Bath (Taiwanese Bath/Korean Bath)

The way I take a Japanese Bath (and likewise for Taiwanese and/or Korean) is somewhat different.

I find the steps to be repetitive and a waste of time to keep going back and forth between soaking and bathing. The entire process can be more efficient without compromising the actual experience. Also, it makes it simpler (yes, as simple as 1,2,3):

Step 1: Soap and wash yourself well.

Step 2: Enjoy the baths. Feel free to rotate between the baths. To avoid wrinkly fingers, I do something stupid but effective. I keep my fingers just above the waterline such that they remain mostly dry. Yes, it looks stupid but it works!

Step 3: Once you are done, get yourself a stool. Give it a good rinse before sitting down on it. Soap yourself down well again and give yourself a good scrub to remove all those dead skin cells and dirt on your body. I prefer to end off with a cold shower. I think a cold shower helps with the experience. I tend to sweat easily especially after a hot bath as my body will retain quite a bit of the heat. By finishing with a cold shower I avoid that sticky sweaty sensation at the end.

Optional: There are some who advocate going back and forth between soaking and showering if one finds it difficult to get “clean”. The idea here is each time you go for a soak, those dead skin cells get loosen and become easier to remove when you shower. I personally think it’s excessive as there is no true benchmark as to when you are actually “clean”. Just keep it simple!

Have you tried taking a Japanese Bath before? Let me know in the comments!

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2 responses

  1. I’m not an onsen-goer, and I’ve only done it once. It does seem excessive to rinse, soak, wash, then soak again. I remember only two steps: wash then soak. Also, If the first rinse was just a rinse, you would still be bringing dirt into the bath, no? Strange.

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