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Cultural: Bath houses and onsen

Tokyo, Japan

As Japanese houses are, mostly, pretty small and apartments or rooms for singles even more so (don't get me started on students..), many Japanese don't have their own bath (e.g. shared bathroom with a shower in a guest house or the like). To compensate for this, and provide a means of getting some relaxation in a tub filled with hot water, sentos (bath houses) can be found pretty much in every neighborhood. You pay your fee there and can stay as long as you like.
The procedure is as follows_

You start by taking off all your cloth in the locker area and enter the bathing area only with a small towel and your hygiene products. In there you usually find a wall lined with small plastic seats, mirrors and showers. Head for those. Here you get yourself clean, and I mean really clean. You can do more than just scrubbing yourself semi-raw by the way, I say guys shaving and brushing their teeth, so as long as you get clean, pretty much everything is fine. Use your small towel as a washcloth.

When all the bubbles were washed away, you are ready to enter the baths themselves. Depending on the size of the sento there may be different dimensions, temperatures, tub materials and water properties to choose from. Kusuri (herbal/medical) and electric (yes, with an electric current running through the water) baths may be available as well. You can start at one and try them all, as long as you don't pass out from the heat.
In cases where the water comes from a hot spring, its called an onsen. There are public ones to use just like your regular sento, others however are included in ryokans, traditional lodging houses.

The onsen I recently entered was part of the Turtle Inn and indoors. Outdoor baths (called rotenburo) made of stone or wood are the more popular alternative however, especially in winter. Those are nice, really.

While most bath are separated by gender, there are some onsen offering co-ed bathing. Whether you want that or not, your choice.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on August 24, 2010 from Tokyo, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
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