Japanese Baths Aren’t Your Ordinary Baths
Japanese baths are a little different than how we do our bathing here in the west. First, in Japan, one may bathe either in one's home, known as an ofuro, or in a public bath house, known as a sento. They also enjoy public baths in the natural hot springs in Japan, known as onsen. In any of these places, the purpose in a Japanese bath is to relax.
To take a Japanese bath, you first disrobe outside the bath room at home, or in a changing area in a public bath. You enter the bath room with your towel and cleaning kit. A small stool is available to sit on while you bathe in front of a hand shower or a faucet. Soap yourself and clean up using the water, soap and your scrubbing cloth. Rinse thoroughly. Now you are ready to step into the hot bath. Even bath rooms in houses are equipped with a hand shower to bathe with before entering the bath. The floor is made to withstand the water. The toilet is located in a separate room.
The Japanese bath is a little hotter than what you may be used to. Cleaning yourself before entering the bath starts to prepare your body for the hot temperature. The Japanese bath is deeper than we have in the west, and is meant to be a place to soak and relax.
Public baths were often a place for neighbors to exchange gossip and information before it was common to have a bath room in every home. In the sento, there is one bath for the men and one for the women, though in the past, they all shared a common public bath without a problem.
Soaking in the bath after a long day was a way to let go of the day's stresses and contemplate peaceful, harmonious subjects. Some homes in Japan have tubs that can be programmed to have the water heated by a certain time so when a person comes home, the bath is ready and waiting. They also use on-demand water heaters instead of the large tanks we use to heat our water. The water is allowed to cool off between uses, since it is only used for soaking, not cleaning the body. It is common for the entire family to use the same water in a Japanese bath.
While the Japanese bath ritual may be unfamiliar to us in the west, the concept seems very pleasant and relaxing.