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Ofuro, Bathing ritual in Japan

Tokyo Travel Blog

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Ofuro
When traveling, I especially look for interesting local customs, mostly with those that are very different from mine. And most of the time I am willing to give it a try ☺. While I usually get myself informed of the culture and whatnot before visiting a foreign country, I can’t help but be surprised of the culture clash. When visiting Japan for the first time, I discovered a unique bathing custom that amazed me even though I had read about it in many forms -- cartoon and articles -- and taught me a lesson about respect for body and health.

Public Bath - Ofuro
Ofuro is a soaking hot tub, usually located in the middle of the bathroom, just like a spa. But not to be misled, you have to adhere with the bathing etiquette in Japan (my Japanese trip leader had to make sure that I understood right down to the little details). The ofuro must be used for soaking only, and the person should wash thoroughly first, shampooing, soaping, and everything, in a separate washing section before getting inside the ofuro. The water is pretty hot (and I had to get used to it in my first few ofuro visits), but very relaxing once you’re in it. You must be naked at all times in the bathroom, though. You can’t wear a bathing suit, even your towel must  stay in the dressing room. Don’t cringe, I will explain to you why.

First of all, the idea of bathroom is totally single-sex territory. At the time, I was staying in a dorm-like building used to be a transit place for airline crew in Funabashi, a suburb of Tokyo. There were separate ofuros in for men and women. The place where you bathe and where you use the toilet are two separate sections.

The idea of being naked in the common bathroom is not strange in Japan. I guess we are very self-conscious of our body. But in Japan, the body is respected as part of nature/life and that everybody should be respected no matter what kind of body they have. I remember reading my favorite Totto-chan book and learning about respecting the body can teach people to respect life. 

Anyways... before I entered the bath area, there was a dressing room where I deposited my towel and bag, just like a locker room. There you're supposed to take off your footwear, all of your clothes, put them in the designated locker, take your toiletries with you and head inside the bathroom. The washing sections were located on one side of the bathroom. They look like the usual shower cubicles, but way shorter with stools to sit on. You shower there, shampoo, and basically clean yourself. Once clean, you can get in the ofuro. Soak for a few minutes. Nice. Although I was loving the ofuro, I was pretty self-conscious in the public bath ☺ so I usually picked the times with very little traffic, if possibly none, that was late in the evening or very early in the afternoon. 

Public Bath (sentoo)
On a trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima, I got to visit the public baths. The idea of public bath in Japan is traditionally for socializing. The bathing etiquette is still applied and the men and the ladies are separate. But I just didn’t have the heart to get in the ofuro with a bunch of people that I don’t know, mostly old women gossiping. So I just used the  showers ☺.

Hot Springs (onsen)
In Kyoto we stopped by a hot springs (onsen). It is generally a family place. The hot springs is favorite for the elderly and children. I love hot springs and been visiting lots of them in the countries that have volcanoes.

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photo by: maka77