22 June 2020
As you may have noticed in our last blog on Japanese Wellness Trends, the Japanese have a very special relationship with water. From mountain springs to bubbling onsens and fresh sea-salt air, water is never far away in Japan.
Bathing has been a tradition from the start of history in Japan, and the cultural traditions surrounding even the simplest of water rituals are as rich as they are revitalizing.
The bathtub in Japan takes a special place in the lives of many. Unlike the west, where it’s a place for a quick scrub before heading out to work, the Japanese bathtub or ofuro (お風呂) is a key aspect of a bathing ritual that culturally unites the country and its wellness practices.
Sometimes referred to as a furo bath (the “o” before “furo” has a sense of honour and a mark of respect), this deep-set wooden bath is typically filled with water heated to around 40-42°C and may include a lid or temperature control to maintain the water temperature for an extended period of time. Users always bathe before entering the tub, and bathing facilities are always constructed separately from the washing and toilet facilities. While the purpose of bathing in Western cultures is primarily to get clean, Japanese bathing rituals are centred around relaxation and warming the body.
In Japan, baths are normally taken in three different places: the ofuro (your own house), the sento, (Japanese communal baths) and the onsen (Japanese hot springs). Ofuro is the most common form of bathing in Japan because it can be practised at home and is more affordable than a spa or public bathhouse membership.
In a private home, the furo bath is usually has a social element, with members of a large family usually bathing in a strict order, with the older members bathing first and the rest of the family following in close sequence. Hence, the importance of washing oneself before entering the tub, as it preserves the cleanliness of the water for other family members.
In public bathhouses and even spas, the ofuro takes a more luxurious feel, with simple beauty and traditional design that is combined with unusual depths to offer the bather a luxury experience that is also easy to use.
If using warm water strictly for relaxation sounds familiar, it might be because Furo baths are considered to be the precursors to whirlpool tubs, sometimes known as Jacuzzis, that are now popular all over the world. Like many whirlpools, a modern ofuro may be made of acrylic, and the top of the range models are fitted with a re-circulation system (oidaki) which filters and re-heats the water. Luxury models are still made out of traditional or expensive woods like hinoki, and can be retrofitted with Western-style fittings and used as signature pieces by architects and interior designers in spas across the world.
At GOCO Hospitality, we have worked on a number of projects throughout the world that include Japanese bathing as a key part of the spa area concept. Most recently, our team worked on a project in Okinawa that includes Japanese-style soaking baths in the locker rooms and deep furo tubs in the luxury spa suites.
We can all be grateful for the rich bathing traditions that Japan has offered to the world, just one of the many Japanese wellness trends (which we have a full article on) focused on longevity and immunity that are becoming increasingly popular in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.