What is the most important part of taking a holiday? Relaxing, preferably at a spa, where you can spend your time escaping from daily stressors. In Japan, you will find a seemingly different sort of spa to relax at. You’ll still be able to find traditional spas with mud masks and facials, but for a true idea of traditional Japanese spa options, be sure to try out Sento and Onsen spas and bathhouses to really tap into the Japanese culture.
Bathing in Japan is an absolute luxury, not in the sense that it isn’t widely available, but that it is a pleasure and a very important part of their culture. Glorified amongst the media and across the villages of Japan, the Onsen, the Sento, and ordinary household tubs are important to all.
An Onsen is literally a hot spring and they are the absolute pinnacles of the Japanese bathing experience. Many of the springs hold minerals with healing properties so it is customary to not bathe after visiting an Onsen so the properties may sink into your skin. You can go to one of the public baths for a small fee, or for a more secluded experience for just yourself or you and your partner, reserve a private bath to be shared. If you venture off the beaten track, you can also find some meager, but free hot springs and also many that are more luxurious and have been very well preserved and maintained.
Sento are public bathhouses that are easily found in many larger cities in Japan. Though these are slowly dying out with the up rise of modernity, you can still find many, often geared toward stressed-out business men that have a public bath and a capsule hotel attached.
Regardless of where you choose to visit, beware of the strict etiquette policies that the Japanese will expect. If you are unsure of proper etiquette, just ask.
As stated, bathing is very important in the Japanese culture, particularly before entering a sento or onsen. You will often be given a small square towel and you can sometimes purchase soaps, shampoos, and larger towels with the attendant or at a vending machine. You will then go to the changing room, strip down, and secure your belongings in a locker. After such, you will take a stool and bucket, sit at a faucet and clean yourself very, very well. You are expected to wash your entire body with the utmost care and rinse all foam from your body before entering the bath.
The purpose of this is respect. Most of the time the bath you visit contains water that will be reused and it is considered disgusting to soak in someone else’s dirty water. Also, note that once you enter the bath, you should not let your washcloth touch the water, it is bad form. You may rest it upon your head or lay it aside. After your soak, you may repeat your process in reverse, washing yourself again. If you chose to not wash your hair before and leave it for the end, this is acceptable. If, however, you are visiting the hot springs, do not cleanse afterward as you don’t want to wash away the healing minerals on your skin.
After the bath you will often find relaxation lounges where you can sit and have a chat or grab a beer. There are also areas to sprawl out, talk with friends, or take a nap. It’s the perfect end to a day spent enjoying the traditional and incredible spas and bathhouses in Japan.
If the relaxation and enjoyment found in the onsen and sento of Japan are too much to pass up, take this opportunity to start planning your next holiday—to Japan! When you are packing for this thrilling trip, don’t forget to pack travel insurance from Cover-More Travel Insurance.
Image courtesy of Flickr user np&djjwell.