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Japanese Bath Essay

Japanese Bath Essay

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Published by Ian Koll
An essay I wrote for a 1002 level Japanese class
An essay I wrote for a 1002 level Japanese class

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Published by: Ian Koll on Jul 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Ian Koll
 4/29/2012The ritual of bathing has always been varied between different cultures. It seems asthough every culture has its own form of bathing etiquette, which has been established
throughout the culture’s history. Japan has a very rich
history of bathing etiquette, whichdates back many years. The Japanese, when compared to other Western civilizations, havea very different approach to the idea of bathing. This essay will be focused on explainingthe traditions of Japanese bathing, as well as the common etiquette associated with taking abath in Japan.In Japan, the bath is predominately seen as a form of relaxation rather than amethod of cleaning. Many Japanese people use the bath to relax after a long day, and bathefor purely therapeutic reasons. Traditionally, Western civilizations have used the bath as amethod of washing- where a person washes their body in the bathtub, and soaks in the
water they’ve used to wash themselves with. In Japan, however, the body is cleaned before
entering the bath. This is usually done in a shower, which is commonly conjoined in someway to the room in which the bath is located. Traditionally, the body was cleaned with aseparate basin of water, and the body was rinsed with a washbowl. The body must becompletely clean before entering the bath- this is of the utmost importance, especially forlarger families, as it is common for the same water to be used for every member of thefamily. Family members take turns when using the bath, and the bathtub is coveredbetween uses, as to preserve the heat of the water. Japanese bathing etiquette can bebroken down into several steps. The first step is to ensure that the body is clean beforeentering the bath. Washing is done prior to entering the bath, and no soap or shampoo
should be used in the bath itself. After ensuring the body is clean, one may enter or exit thebath as desired, but care should be taken as to not soil the water, as communal bathing iscommon, and many people often share the same water. Once the bather is done, the next member of the family or household will then begin their bathing process, and the cyclestarts over until everyone has had their bath.Bathtubs in Japan have changed a lot over time. Traditional bathtubs were made of wood, and were made with steep sides. More modern baths may be made of plastic or tile,but wooden baths can still be found all throughout the country, especially in inns or otherlocations that attract visitors. Regardless, the majority of Japanese baths are box-shaped,and are substantially deeper than western baths. This allows bathers to fully submergethemselves in the water, for the purpose of propagating relaxation and improvingcirculation. Some higher-end Japanese baths utilize a recycling system, which reheats thewater during continued use. This is especially useful for families in which many people usethe bath at once. One notable difference between western and Japanese bathrooms is that,unlike western designs, the toilet is almost always in an entirely separate location from thebath- not only for the sake of hygiene, but also because the Japanese bath consists of twoseparate but equal elements that make fitting a toilet in the same room impossible. These
elements are the bathtub, and the outer “washing area,” where one fills the washbasin and
uses soaps and shampoos. The washing area, unlike western bathrooms, is designed to get wet, and it is for this reason that Japanese bathrooms almost always incorporate a water-tight door, or separate entrance as to avoid flooding the hallway with overflowing water.It is not uncommon for Japanese people to take baths outside of the home. This ismost commonly done in one of two ways- at either a public bathhouse (
), or a
volcanically heated “hot spring bath” (
). The public bath was once a very integral part of Japanese culture, but in recent years they have seen a decline in patronage, and arebecoming a much less common occurrence. Historically, most neighborhoods would have apublic bathhouse where neighbors and friends would bathe together. This was seen as abonding ritual, and was an integral aspect of daily life. In Japan, the act of bathing withfriends and family is believed to bring individuals closer to one another, and is a part of theJapanese c
oncept of “skinship”. Skinship,
broadly defined, is the idea of physical closeness,but has more recently been reserved for the act of bathing in company. Although foreignerssometimes mistake it as a sexual concept, the idea of skinship is entirely wholesome.
Another term the Japanese use to describe the closeness of bathing is “naked association,”
Hadaka no Tsukiai
). The idea behind
Hadaka no Tsukiai
is simple- while bathing, nothing ishidden, and the act of being unclothed amongst company facilitates friendlycommunication. This fosters intimacy and closeness, and forces people to interact on themost basic level- thereby promoting bonding and friendship. Both skinship and
Hadaka noTsukiai
are integral aspects of both
and onsen culture.In summation, the Japanese bath is a much more ritualistic and methodical processof relaxation rather than a method of purely cleaning the body. Japanese baths are as mucha tool for cleaning the body as they are for cleaning the mind and spirit- such conceptsharken back to the days of Buddhist theology, in which water, especially water from hot springs, was used as a method of ritual purification. These days, the bath is seen as a mereaspect of everyday life- and yet the traditions behind the Japanese bath have been foreverengraved into Japanese culture.

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