Travel Japan – Bathing

08 Mar


This is one of the cluster of hot spring baths at Kurokawa onsen.

When I told one of my friends that Japanese women sometimes keep one of these folded towels on their head while in the communal baths; the friend said,

They must not wash their hair then.”

I was taken aback until I realized, we think of communal bathing as in washing up. Japanese never get into a communal bath without thoroughly washing themselves first. You don’t wash in the bath at all. You relax and enjoy it.


Outside the bath they have little stools and basins with a faucet or hand held shower spray. You sit and wash first.

Our tour guide Steve Biemel pointed out that the more you relax in the baths, the deeper your relaxation gets. I went once or twice a day, whenever we had the opportunity and found that to be true.

You get to keep these little towels. They often had large bath towels available to use. I liked the economy of these little towels and used them like a chamois. They are the perfect size to wrap one around your hair. I still use them at home.

They are about 28″ long by about a foot wide.

I bought these green ones at Kurokawa, an area that has many hot springs grouped together. You buy a passport that allows you to visit as many of the 12 or so springs as you can. You stroll around a winding mountain path in your geta and yukata, a cotton kimono, (Provided by ryokan).

Alicia Nijdam

In different places the water has different qualities. Depending on mineral content, they offer different benefits to your body. Some smell like sulphur, some are natural, some are large man made baths.  The man made one at  Karatsu was spotless. I was told that it was emptied out every night and scrubbed before refilling. In Japan the word for beauty also means clean. It makes me feel relaxed just thinking about being there.


Posted by on March 8, 2010 in How to, Japan


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11 responses to “Travel Japan – Bathing

  1. blkdrama

    March 8, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Now that’s a great sales pitch. Who wouldn’t want to have something sooo relaxing? Did you get to see Departures yet? Bathing is an important element for the characters in that movie.

    • purplume

      March 8, 2010 at 8:30 pm

      Yes, I did see departures. Was that you who recommended it? It was excellent. Yes the bath was a part of that. I can see him scrubbing himself before getting in, poor dear.

  2. Thea Phipps

    March 9, 2010 at 2:47 am

    That is a gorgeous picture you have at the first! It’s funny, but Americans think that they will achieve longevity if they push themselves and train themselves physically. No pain, no gain. The Japanese feel that longevity comes from staying positive and avoiding stress, or relieving it whenever one can. I wholeheartedly agree with the Japanese.

    • purplume

      March 14, 2010 at 8:44 pm

      Oh thanks Thea. I wasn’t connecting it that way. You are right and I like that way better, relaxing. You always add value, thanks.

  3. Kortney

    March 9, 2010 at 8:52 am

    I don’t see myself traveling to Japan anytime soon, but I wonder if you could recreate at least the atmosphere of this at home. You know washing before getting into the tub (because of that whole laying in your own filth thing), having a special towel that we train you like Pavlov’s dog to relax when you see it… Hmm. I”m inspired.

    • purplume

      March 14, 2010 at 8:48 pm

      Great idea Kortney. And make the water very hot or at least as hot as one can take.
      I have on occasion showered and then filled the tub. I do it because I’ve colored my hair and I want a bath but need to get all that color goo out first.
      I like creating a Pavlovian response too. Maybe sounds of nature filling the air?

  4. Robin from Israel

    March 9, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Those natural outdoor hot springs look utterly wonderful. Perhaps your friend (and others) would understand the baths better if they thought of them like hot tubs or jacuzzis – you don’t get in those without being clean first either, they’re just for relaxing. I think it’s the word bath itself that’s misleading to English speakers, not the concept.

    • purplume

      March 14, 2010 at 8:50 pm

      You’re right Robin. I didn’t think of that. Now I want a hot tub. Yes, that would be good. I wonder do they induce cumulative relaxation?

  5. Carol

    March 16, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    The ultimate in relaxation! We can learn so much from the Japanese.


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