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.”
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.
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