What do I like about my accommodation in Japan? The Japanese bathroom and its bathtub. And not just any bathtub, be careful. A high-tech bathtub that makes me run a good bath “almost” on my own (with fan heater for the winter). Many cultures share the practice of the hot bath for relaxation rather than washing. In Japan, it is a real ritual deeply rooted in the habits of the Japanese.
Between the sento (retro public baths), the onsen (outdoor thermal springs) and their high-tech bathroom, the Japanese are great lovers of swimming alone (or in company).
Because the bath is not so much to cleanse the body with plenty of water as to purify the mind and stay in good health.
The little story of bathing in Japan
From the temple …
With the adoption of Buddhism from China, various purification rites were introduced to Japan around the 6th century.
Japanese temples have baths so that their devotees can wash away their sins. The “bath” is a very important virtuous practice, causing a strong craze for temple visits.
One could almost mischievously assume that it wasn’t always so much to follow the precepts of Buddhism only to enjoy a good bath….
At the public baths
A small leap in time, here we are in the Edo era (1603-1868), a period during which the sento, public baths. Their development revolutionizes the daily life of the less well-off social classes who can more frequently perform ablution. I say “ablutions”, because until then, “bathers” in fact still only partially entered the water (mainly their legs). They mostly enjoyed the steam like a sauna.
The sento lead to a technological revolution, with tubs heated by wood or fed by a system of hot water pipes, in which the bather can immerse himself up to the shoulders.
Real little neighborhood gems, these baths still exist today, although this culture is threatened by modern life. The sento is often a family affair. However, the thankless working hours (they open in the afternoon until late at night), for very little profit, do not motivate the younger generations to take up the torch …
Modesty is cultural
As a little anecdote, Japanese baths have long been mixed. Because in Japan, the nudity of the body is considered natural and has no reason to shock.
For brief periods in the country’s history, men and women were prohibited from bathing together, but these were brief parentheses in this mixed bathing culture.
It was not until 1868 with the Meiji Restoration that the practice was truly banned. With the opening of Japan to the West, the relationship of the Japanese with nudity and modesty changes (unfortunately).
After the revolution of public baths, the appearance of the Japanese bathroom
The Showa era (1926-1989) marks the development of modern homes incorporating a space for washing and toilets. This revolution is accelerating with the strong economic development of the post-war period. Today, a home, even a studio, is difficult to imagine without its bathroom!
Of course, it is still possible to find old accommodation for rent that does not have a bathroom or accommodation that only has a miserable shower cubicle. But most are then in fact located not far from public baths.
These, opening in the afternoon and closing late at night, allow tenants to get there after a day of work or study. A charming option that my husband definitely vetoed when we were looking for our apartment.
The modern Japanese bathroom
Since the last century, Japanese bathrooms have been modernized. First of all, you have to understand that in Japan a bathroom is actually divided into two spaces: a “dry” space which is the room where you change (datsuijo, 脱衣 所). This is often also where the washing machine and a sink cabinet are located.
And a “wet” space, i.e. a bathroom cabin (o furoba, お風 呂 場), more or less large, more or less modern. This is the Japanese bathroom proper.
You can water it from floor to ceiling without any worries (after closing the door, eh!): It is a space made to withstand humidity into every nook and cranny. Cabins usually have a powerful VMC which can dry the room, heat it, cool it and may even have a mode for drying your laundry.
Small units generally include the sink, or even the toilet, in the shower cubicle (a bit like in a motel).
For families living with grandparents, these two spaces can be arranged in such a way as to make them easily accessible and less dangerous for seniors.
The Japanese bathroom and its tub of the future
Like the Goldorak toilets with the craziest functions, the “tubs” come with a whole host of great options. A Japanese bathroom worthy of the name therefore has a control panel full of buttons. The bath model I have at home (Rinnai) is very basic.
The most demanding of the Japanese can have small massage jets or even a TV screen installed on the wall. This last addition is probably not the best for truly relaxing after a long day …
Gundam Japanese bathtub control panel
The first appreciable function is certainly the automatic filling of your bathtub. After having programmed the quantity of water for the first time (風 呂 湯 量) as well as the temperature (風 呂 温度), you press a button ( 自動 : automatic) and presto, it fills up as if by magic. A small bell or a voice announces when the bath is ready in the main living room. The most recent bathroom models even include a timer to program your bath at the desired time.
But these functions don’t stop there! Some models are also equipped with a bath water heating system ( 追い 炊き, お い だ き). Remember: you don’t wash in the tub, but right next to it, in the “shower” area. The Japanese therefore usually run a bath for the whole household. It is also possible to program the bathtub to keep the water hot for several in succession ( 保温 時間).
Finally, the bathtub control panel can have a call button ( 呼び 出し) to alert other residents that something is wrong. This function is vital for the elderly who, if they do not feel well or fall, can call for help. It is also recommended that they, when they live alone, prefer sento to their bathroom. In addition to maintaining social ties, this prevents them from the dangers of falling or feeling unwell at home.
The onsen comes home
All the same, you can relax in an onsen, with Mount Fuji in front of you and a blue sky above your head (or the stars, for lovers of night baths). The problem is that it usually costs a kidney (for the most luxurious).
Also, the Japanese very much appreciate essential oils and bath salts on a daily basis. A quick glance in the shelves gives you an idea of their passion for the subject. You can find everything there: salts to fight against stress, against colds, back pain and other ailments, sachets of minerals imitating thermal waters or even with mountain pine scents to escape from your bathtub.
My husband loves to put in his bath some yuzus, Japanese citrus fruits that his parents grow in their garden, in the bath water. A true delight !
If slipping into a Japanese bath makes you feel good, you know the rules. We scrub from head to toe before running the hot water. A few drops of essential oils (here lavender!) Or bath salts, enter the water and forget about 2020.
Useful vocabulary for the bathroom in Japan
|銭 湯||sento||public bath|
|お風 呂 場, お 風 呂||o furo ba, o furo||bathroom (* o marks the politeness)|
|脱衣 所||datsuijo||changing place (locker room)|
|リ モ コ ン||rimokon||control panel, remote control|
|呼 び 出 し||yobidashi||call|
|お い だ き, 追い 炊き||oidaki||warm up|
|運 転 入・ 切||unten iri kiri||ON / OFF|
|セ ー ブ||seebu||save|
|風 呂 湯 量||furo yuuryou||volume of water (bath)|
|風 呂温度||furo ondo||water temperature (bath)|
|た し 湯||tashiyuu||add hot water|
|ぬ る 湯||nuruyuu||add lukewarm water|
|ゆ ら ぎ の シ ャ ワ ー||yuragi no shawaa||“Fluctuating” shower|
|保温 時間||hoonjikan||Hot water storage time|