Thursday, October 7, 2010

Culture: Using a Japanese Bath

Many moons ago, before I lived in Japan or knew much about it, I and some friends took a road trip to San Francisco and stayed in a hotel that catered to a lot of Japanese guests. I don't remember much about the room itself, but I remember giggling when I walked into the bathroom.

There was a tub, the deepest tub I had ever seen, one that you could sit in and fill water up to your shoulders, and a tray of sake balanced carefully on the towels hanging over the side. The combination of strong booze and Pit of Doom bathing seemed funny in a black humor kind of way.

Years later, when I moved there, I discovered that these deep sort of tubs were standard in good-sized Japanese homes. If you travel over to Japan, you may come across one of these tubs, in its own literal bathroom, where half of the room is the shower head on a wall, and the other half is the deep tub.

The standard way of bathing is that you wash and clean off with the shower, and then get into the tub to soak and relax. Soap should never enter the water in the tub, and you should be clean when you get in (this is important because a family, as they take their individual turns showering and bathing, uses the same bathwater without changing it out).

If you ever visit hot springs, where you get buck-naked (that's a whole different post!), you will also be expected to clean off in showers before getting into the hot spring itself for the same reasons: the water is for relaxing, not bathing.

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