Japanese bath: What a foreigner should know before going there
Taking a Japanese bath is a well-loved pastime. Men and women alike go to baths to recover their strength, relax after work and ease the daily stress and rush. As a country known for its authentic culture, Japan bath has its own rules of etiquette which foreign customers should know and follow.
Men and women go to separate areas to bathe. Since men make up the majority of bath fans, there are spas only for men. Upon entering the spa, you are required to take off your shoes and put them in a shoe locker and then you may proceed to purchase the ticket. At every spa, a visitor is given one large and two small towels, a garment to wear in the common areas and a disposable hygiene kit including a toothbrush, razor, comb and hair ties for fastening hair. If there are no hygiene items in your personal bag, do not worry, you will find everything you need in the changing rooms. In the women‘s area, in the room with mirrors, you will find make-up removal items like cleansing milk or oils and cotton wipes. This is very convenient as you do not have to bring them along. And all the more so that the toiletries usually come from such famous cosmetic brands as Shiseido.
When entering the bathing area, you shouldn‘t wear a swimsuit, only small towels are allowed inside the bath. The towels are long and narrow, yet very functional. They are used for drying or wrapping hair or as a sponge or cover to be placed on bath benches. The bathing ritual begins with taking a shower. Here I would recommend watching the local bathers. Most baths will have a small stool to sit on while washing. You can take a shower but the Japanese use a bucket filled with water to wash themselves with a small long towel and then pour themselves all over with the water from the bucket. At this mini shower stall you will find a shampoo, hair conditioner and shower gel. After washing thoroughly, you are ready to indulge in soaking in hot-spring tubs (quite a common service) or enjoy a sauna, steam bath or other wellness services (such as peeling and massage), if you chose to order them. An important observation – if you cannot find a place where to put your tiny towel, you can fold it into quarters and place it on your head. Just as in the photo.
The saunas are very hot. And there are TVs in them. Yes, yes, TVs! It is one of the most surprising things about them. In the spas, a Finnish Löyly programme is broadcast at a certain time. A Löyly master distributes steam with a towel over the bathers while giving instructions what and when to do. The heat is gradually increased to the maximum and after the programme the customers cool down in a cold water pool or ice room.
Before getting into the bath you should scoop some water out of the tub and pour it onto your feet. For this purpose use ladles that are rested on the edge of the pool.
Some saunas offer programmes that involve whisking or provide whisks prepared for individual use.
After soaking in the bathtub, it is customary to rinse off once again in the shower, after which you may return to the changing room with mirrors where you can dry your hair, pamper skin with creams, while women can put their cosmetics on.
Most people go to the spas after work. The baths are usually open around the clock so you can as well stay overnight there. The Japanese are keen on using the service, as the prices for visiting a bath and staying overnight are very affordable. The spas are situated in strategically important locations with good transport links, usually in the city centres. I do highly recommend them for tourists!
What is so important to know is that people who have tattoos are not allowed to take a bath. Unless the tattoo is a tiny one and may be hidden under a 8 cm x 12 cm size stretch bandage. Make sure to buy it yourself in the store in advance as they are not always available for purchase in the spas.
I wish you pleasant Japanese bath experiences!