Taking a Bath in Japan

J & J's amazing wooden bath

The first time I visited a new friend’s house when I lived in Japan I was asked at the end of the evening if I wanted to take a bath. What?! Do they think I need it? How strange. I politely declined but kept thinking about why they had asked. My friends were not Japanese but they had been born in and grew up in Japan so they really lived a mix of cultures. Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I asked, “Is it common to offer a bath to visitors in Japan?”

“No”, they said, “It’s just that we have had this traditional wooden bath built and often people want to try it out.”

“Phew!”

Most people in Japan now have a modern, Japanese style bath in their bathroom that is shorter than a Western style bath, but deeper. Next to the bath there is a low showerhead, hose or bucket and a little stool. Because the bathwater will be shared by whomever lives in the house, it is important to get clean before you step into the bath for soaking.

To do this, you sit on the stool and use the hose or bucket to wet yourself down, and then you lather up with soap. After this, you rinse off. The entire room is covered in tiles or plastic so there is no need to worry about getting things wet as you splash water all over the place. Now, you are ready to get into the bathwater which, as you can imagine, is very relaxing. It’s also very hot.

Whereas in many countries it is polite to be quick when taking a shower at someone’s house, in Japan it is important to take your time in the bath. They might think you haven’t got clean enough if you are too quick, but your hosts might also worry that you didn’t get to relax enough.

If you ever get a chance to take a bath in a Japanese house or a public bath, called a sento, or the more elaborate and beautiful onsen, take it! It’s a great experience.

About the author

Marie Szamborski
Marie lives in Auckland, New Zealand but was born in the United States and is a dual-national. She has lived in five countries altogether but sees New Zealand as her real home base. She loves travel, and living in multi-cultural Auckland is the next best thing to being out there.
Other 155 posts by

7 Comments

  • What a cool looking bath! In Japan I stayed in a traditional ryokan which had a communal bath instead of a bathroom in the room. The style of the room was completely different, but the ritual seems similar to the hammam in Turkey.

  • Oh I wish we had stayed in a proper ryokan when we lived there. We did stay in one once, but it was very basic and we couldn’t afford the meal in the room and all that good stuff at the time. Someday I’ll save my holiday money just for that. Or maybe I should go for the hammam experience. that sounds amazing!

  • We skipped the dinner, because it was just too expensive. The breakfast was amazing though. Definitely an experience.

    We have a historic hammam just up the road, so if you ever make it here you can definitely try it!

  • Aahh, love a hot bath to soak in. This one looks intriguing and most probably, by its depth, one could dunk one’s head under the water as well! My only Japanese experience was here in Melbourne when I visited a shiatsu place, run by two Japanese qualified sisters, but they only had a warming shower. There is a ryukan near Daylesford in country Victoria which I will visit one day…no doubt, they have a bath similar to this one.

  • Menchu, if you have places like that over in Aussie, I wonder if we have them here in New Zealand too. I know there is a hot spring in the South Island that is run by a Japanese lady. I somehow feel it is my duty to check it out:-)

  • Taking a bath in an onsen (hotspring) is defintely the most unique Japanese experience you can have. Imagine soaking in the outdoors surrounded by beautiful mountains completely naked.

    After, you feel like 100 bucks.

  • So true, Ben!