Ofuro: Japanese baths   お風呂

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Japanese Style Bathroom, where we shower outside of the bathtub and then enter the bathtub once clean.

A Japanese style bathroom, where one showers outside the bathtub and then enters the bathtub once clean.

A Japanese bath

A Japanese bathroom

Japanese bathing rituals

Bathing in Japan is a real ritual. But how is it different from bathing in the west?

The Japanese have a special relationship with water. Their land is full of water: mountains and rivers are everywhere; all over the archipelago rivers snake through valleys, cities, and then merge with the ocean. This ocean is never far away, nor are the mountains. And the Japanese, even the most urban, are very in sync with nature. 

Nevertheless, water still proves to be a force to be reckoned with in Japan. Torrential rains, typhoons, tsunamis, landslides... The dangers related to water are many.

Despite this, the Japanese love the water. And if there had to be a single proof to this statement, it would be their bathing culture!

A ritual?

A cultural tradition, the bathtub in Japan is known as ofuro (お風呂). The "o" before "furo" has a sense of honor and a mark of respect, it's telling you the importance of this ritual. Because yes, the ofuro is a ritual, a tradition that contributes to a sense of belonging to a culturally united group of people.

Cultural differences

While in the west, a bath (or often just a shower) is just a personal hygiene routine that is carried out quickly; in Japan it takes time, and they revel in the experience. It's one of life's pleasures.

The central element of this ritual - after water - is obviously the tub. This turns out to be slightly different from its western counterpart. It is often smaller, but deeper. Formerly, it was made of wood, but today, it's usually stainless steel or plastic. A sophisticated system allows you to set  the filling time, and the water level and temperature.

But the real difference is the bathroom itself - you'll only find the bath and shower here, never a toilet. In Japan (as in many other countries), the water can go anywhere in the room, because it's completely waterproof.

How to take a bath in Japan 

In Japan, before entering the bath, you must wash first.

For this, you sit on a small stool and clean yourself. To rinse off, take water from the bath by means of a bowl or bucket and pour it all over yourself. Nowadays, many people rinse with a showerhead instead. Once clean and rinsed, then you can enter the bath. Fair warning, the water is often very hot! The Japanese love this, so the temperature can easily reach 45°c...

One important thing - do not drain the bath water! Since you clean yourself before getting in, the water stays clean, so the bath water isn't changed before it's used by all household members. Some people even collect this water the next day for the washing machine!

Comments Read comments from our travellers

Bartok design

45 degrees! Wow that is hot! Probably too hot for most people. We have ours on 42 at home. When I got a new washing machine a few years ago the plumber was looking around for the bath so he could attach the 'grey water' hose to it, but my home is western style (even in Osaka) so I have a separate laundry. We still make sure the bath is used by all the members of the family before draining it though - conserve water :)