Take a Dip in Japan’s Bathhouse Culture

Take a Dip in Japan’s Bathhouse Culture
Japanese Bathhouse, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A handy guide to your local Onsen and Sentō culture

Labanya Maitra
February 22 , 2020
02 Min Read

A long, steaming bath with a glass (or bottle) of wine, some soft jazz and dim lighting, bath culture from the West has permeated all our social media and made it the epitome of romance and self-love. But bathing culture a little east is deep rooted in history. Case in point: Japan.

There are two types of bathhouses in Japan, Onsen and Sentō. This culture dates back to when bathtubs in people’s houses weren’t a common feature and people would visit communal bathhouses for a long, hot, relaxing soak. With an abundance of volcanoes, Japan has communal bathhouses along natural hot springs called Onsen. Sentō are pretty similar, the only difference is the water which is heated artificially and not naturally.

A natural Onsen hot spring

If you’re visiting Japan, stopping by one of the bathhouses is a great way to soak in the local way of life. However, when doing so, keep a few things in mind. The Japanese take hygiene and cleanliness very seriously, so make sure to follow a few crucial steps. For starters, be comfortable in your own skin, literally. Japanese bathhouses don’t allow clothes, not even bathing suits. You can take a towel along but make sure it doesn’t touch the water, wrap it around your head or keep it just outside the bath.

Speaking of bath, the pre-bath shower is no joke. Communal bathhouses are equipped with personal showers to thoroughly clean yourself. While most showers are equipped with soap, shampoos and other toiletries, you might have to pay a small fee for some. It’s always a good idea to carry your own.

While tattoos are pretty rapidly gaining cultural acceptance, there are a large number of bathhouses that don’t allow people with tattoos in. So if you’re sporting some ink, it’s always best to ask in advance if tattoos are okay.

Most bathhouses are usually segregated for men and women. While certain communal baths are reserved for only men or women, others have special hours for men and women to bathe. Make sure to clean up after yourself after both the shower and the bath, and dry yourself off before entering the locker area.

Mirrors and taps and in a bathhouse

Baths are a serious business, and a time to relax and rejuvenate. The water is hot, so be careful not to splash, dive, or swim at a communal bath. They are, however, considered to be the Japanese equivalent of a hair salon when it comes to striking up a conversation with a fellow bather. So, tidy up, scrub, and take a dip for some nice, warm R&R and heart-to-heart.

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