Our Western stereotype of Japan is that everything there is small and more efficient, and while that isn’t entirely true, it does hold for the perplexing task of bathing in a Japanese bath. Believe it or not, bathing is not a straightforward exercise, and at the moment to you go bathe, we have found that there is no English language interpreter to assist.
Consider this blog post a short-cut that will allow you, the reader to avoid confused moments in a cold room when minimally clothed.
Boys and Girls
Japanese baths in the same family home are shared between the entire family, though in a public bath, hotel or guest house you may encounter two sets of fabric curtains. Blue is for men and red is for women.
All the facilities inside are shared between individuals of the same gender. Within the bath area, clothing is not used, though it seems that Japanese hotels understand that Westerners may feel uncomfortable, so they don’t seem to mind if you use a swimsuit, though in that case you wouldn’t be able to fully bathe.
Public baths have lockers for your belongings and towel and hotels, even simple ones, provide you with a kimono-like robe to wear before and after entering the baths. Once you’ve stashed your belongings and disrobed, enter the bath itself.
Upon entering a Japanese bath, you will see a showerhead and faucet and a tub. The showerhead/faucet combo is accompanied by a small stool and a wash bucket. Japanese use the stool to sit while bathing and use the bucket to dump water over their bodies. For the most part, I treated the wash area as a shower and used the detatchable showerhead to rinse my body instead of the gung-ho bucket of water approach. Soap and shampoo are provided. There is also a mirror for shaving.
In public baths, there is generally a large pool. This tub or pool is filled with hot water and stays clean of soap and unwashed bodies. Wash your body, your hair, and then rinse off the soap. After this step, you’re ready to enter the tub or pool for a nice soak. In public baths, the jacuzzi-like pool is shared among all. In private hotel rooms or homes, the small deep tub of soak water is maintained clean for the entire family.
Once you’ve soaked sufficiently, you can get out and wash again or simply rinse off and dress. At this point you could put on your kimono-robe to walk around the hotel or dress in your usual attire.
Enjoy the feeling of relaxation and cleanliness. It’s like a normal bath, only better, since it’s Japanese.