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Japan Fun Fact #5

December 6th, 2004

Photo from Japan Guide.

Japanese people typically do not take showers in the morning; they take a bath in the evening. The “bathroom” in Japan is exactly that; the toilet is always in a separate room, except in small apartments where there is a “unit bath.” The bathroom (again, aside from unit baths) consists of a large tub and a shower area. Most Japanese sit down on a stool for the “shower,” but don’t always use the shower head. One soaps up outside the tub, and either showers to rinse off or uses a small plastic bowl filled with water, poured over the head or shoulders, to rinse. Then one luxuriates in the tub, which has a water intake and outlet to circulate the tub water through a heating system to keep the water warm. In many Japanese families, the same water is kept for everyone (usually father first, smallest child last).

A few myths about Japanese bathing to be dispelled: first, Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor (his last even semi-readable book, before he descended into mediocrity) aside, Japanese typically do not go to bath houses, especially with work colleagues. Sometimes people might enjoy the luxury of a special bath house, but otherwise bath houses (“sento“) tend to be for people with no bath at home. Second, Japanese rarely bathe in mixed-sex baths. It may be true still in a few small countryside villages and a few scattered hot springs (“onsen“), but not in most places in Japan. There is probably more mixed bathing in California, to be honest.

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  1. mashu
    December 6th, 2004 at 14:01 | #1

    I would point out that down here in Yamaguchi, the sento/onsen is becoming a very popular way to just relax. My family and I go often (weekly) and we see many friends and business relations who are just using the sento to realx. They also have game, centers, massage services and restaurants. They are becomming kind of relaxation theme parks. Quite nice, in fact.

  2. Charlie
    December 7th, 2004 at 20:18 | #2

    Glad to see your blog is thriving…if you want more ‘fun facts’ as well as seeing Japan blogs celebrated I have just come across a recommendation to read Japanese-based blogs in a new book. The book is called Extremes: Contradictions in Contemporary Japan. It’s by a chap called G M Thomas and the ISBN (in case you want to order or buy it) is 0-9546789-0-7.
    I bought it from amazon.co.uk and I also saw it on amazon.co.jp
    Anyway, I enjoyed the book a lot, and it was good to see that it recognised the power of blogs to inform people. Also I think the book itself is a ‘must read’ if you’re fascinated by Japan.
    All the best
    Charlie (late of “japaneze”)

  3. Matto
    March 17th, 2005 at 22:06 | #3

    Regarding your Japanese bathroom post. You write that sento ” tend to be for people with no bath at home”. Are you kidding? In living in Japan for 5 years I have NEVER met anyone who did not have a bath at home.
    Additionally, I can agree that many Japanese do not go to public baths daily but to write that “Japanese typically do not go to bath houses” is erroneous. I’ve just conducted a straw pole of 9 Japanese co-workers and 7 of them claim to have gone to a sento or onsen in the past month. Unless life in Tokyo is vastly different from out here in the provinces (Ehime-ken) I’d have to think more Japanese visit sento than your entry suggests.

  4. Luis
    March 17th, 2005 at 23:13 | #4

    Matto: Bath houses are far more popular in the countryside than in the city. I say this with two years’ experience living in Toyama, out in the boonies, and more than a decade in Tokyo.

    And having been on many apartment hunts, I can assure you that bath-less apartments do exist. You just rarely meet people of such meager means that they can’t afford a place with a bath. But I have. On one of my first trips to Japan, in fact–I stayed at a friend’s place, an apartment she usually shared with a roomie, both chipping in for the low rent. It was a tiny place, barely enough room to do anything–and there was no bath, in the apartment or in the building. So when I stayed there, for one night, I had to go to the sento.

    So maybe you just never met a person with a low enough income, or maybe Ehime is so cheap that every place can have a bath and still be dirt cheap as well. But the straw poll is a good idea–I should try it where I work…

  5. Luis
    March 17th, 2005 at 23:15 | #5

    On review, maybe there was a misunderstanding–by “home,” you might have thought I meant “house.” Home is the abode, not the structure–I meant people who live in cheap apartments, where they live–at “home.” I should have been more clear.

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