This is a guest post by my mom Anna who recently returned from her 2-week trip across Japan. She has enjoyed several cultural “experiences” on her trip (a tea ceremony, kimono fitting, gold leaf printing) – and she believes visiting traditional Japanese bath house should also be included as a must cultural experience in Japan.
For an extensive list of Tokyo experiences, check out this Get Your Guide site.
I travelled to Japan in July of 2015. It was definitely not the best month of the year to enjoy Japan because half of the trip it was raining and when it was not raining it was really hot (more than 100F). But one experience I enjoyed regardless of the weather was the Japanese bath. (In fact, I wonder what it would be like visiting the baths in the winter).
Most of these baths are fed from natural hot springs that can be found everywhere across the volcanic islands of Japan. I experienced Japanese baths both in hotels where we stayed on this trip and in a “stand alone” public facility. (It is typical for a Japanese hotel to have a bath.) There were no thermal baths in Japan I did not like, but in this post I would like to share my experience visiting the Hot Springs Public Bath in Odaiba – large artificial island in Tokyo.
When you enter the Baths, first, you take off your shoes (as in many places you are visiting in Japan). You then pay for the baths (about 2300 yen -$18) and any additional (optional) services, such as massages, peels etc. ( 300 yen and up). Next, you choose a kimono (typical yukata robe) to wear in the baths and pick the towels.
You can see my choice of kimono here:
You leave your own clothes in the locker and take the locker key with you (to wear on your hand) while you are inside the baths. After changing, I found myself in the big colorful hall – shopping “arcade”. This area is shared by men and women (the pools area is gender-separate). There are many restaurants and stalls inside. You can hear Japanese music and there are a lot of locals around. Most of the tables in this area are seat-on-your-knees Japanese tables, but you can find Western type tables as well. Free green tea is served everywhere, which is nice. Since you are dressed (in kimono) in this area, pictures are allowed.
I found the price of food in the Bath very reasonable. You can enjoy the food before or after the bath (or both, as I did).
And then I crossed into the “cleansing” sanctuary. There was a huge indoor-outdoor gender-separate bathing area (no camera allowed) and also a beautifully arranged outdoor relaxation space (which I especially welcomed after an exhausting day touring around Tokyo.)
There were additional small lockers to store your things in the bathing area- as well as locked boxes for valuables. You must shower naked before entering the pools. This is a non-negotiable part of local culture. I saw some people keeping a small towel in front of the body when moving between the showers and the pools, but in the pools they definitely take them off. So, after you are all washed, it’s time to walk to the thermal pools. There are 14 spa pools (and barrels) in Odaiba Baths, all with varying water temperatures (from 36C to 42C). (In some hotel baths I visited, there were just 3 spa pools, but the cold water pool is everywhere).
The baths are usually not deep (up to your belly) and have a sitting board inside. I took this picture in one of the hotel spas – to give you an idea of a typical Japanese thermal pool (some are larger).
Within the Odaiba Bath, you can also enjoy a steam room and a sauna. As an optional service, I tried the whole body peel. After my 30 minute treatment (you can choose up to a 90 minute peeling experience) you have yourself a baby skin again! And what a feeling to then relax in a fresh wood smelling barrel full of warm water in the open air! Believe me, it did not matter what the weather was like!
And when you think it cannot get any better, you put on your kimono and go to the outside (shared) area of the baths. You find yourself in a beautiful green zone – reflexology area.
You can have a reflexology massage in a cabin (“extra”) or just walk through several shallow pools with the rocks on the bottom. Each pool has different size rocks- some are sharp and some are smooth; as you walk through, you are experiencing a “natural” reflexology massage. Some people can’t walk on the rocks because it hurts. As for me, I found that I did not like to walk on the sharp rocks but I did enjoy the smooth rocks.
In some hotels you can enjoy indoor/outdoor swimming pools after or before the bath experience (swimming cap and goggles are required). In all the hotel spas I visited, I had a feeling that no detail was spared for a maximum rest and restoration (and comfort!) of the guests: from individual TV/computer screens to a fully stuffed “beauty” self-care room.
Visiting a bath while in Japan is a great way to relax for people of all ages and nationalities (most of the baths are child-friendly). They are also a big part of the Japanese culture, so a visit to the baths is both relaxing AND culturally enlightening! My advice: don’t leave Japan without this experience! Now as I am remembering my Japanese trip, I wish that I have spent more time in the Japanese baths.
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