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08-01-2005, 08:21 PM
The history of bath in Japan is said to have started in the year 538, when Buddhism was brought to Japan. From Buddha's words "bathing rids seven illnesses and brings seven lucks," Buddhist temples built bathhouses. Since then, the custom of bathing started in Japan.
With such background, public baths are believed to have originated in such bathhouses, where people took bath together. During their bathing, people talked about their daily lives and rumors, and bathhouses soon became important places for communication.
Japanese like to take baths more than any other people in the world. One of the reasons for this is because Japan has plentiful water and many natural hot springs.
Bathing started as a means to soothe the body tired from traveling and to prevent illnesses. The tradition spread widely and deeply into the lives of Japanese and continues until today.
We offer a large size public bath to our guests so that everyone can soothe their body and mind, regardless of the cultural background and national origins.

08-01-2005, 08:38 PM
Impressions: In English, this must be the most complete book about the Japanese sento (public bathhouse). The photographs show the exterior and interior of 48 sento all over Japan. They include photos of paintings and tile pictures (often of Mt. Fuji) adorning the bathhouse walls and of bathing implements like the familiar yellow Kerorin plastic pails, soap bars, and disposable razors.

There's also an informative, illustrated history of the Japanese sento and an illustrated glossary of sento terminology. The book was supervised by MACHIDA Shinobu, Japan's foremost sento scholar who has visited over 2,000 sento in Japan. He also contributed some pictures of facades of sento that have since closed. Everything is thankfully in both Japanese and English.

They say that no other people in world like to take a bath more than the Japanese. Bathing in Japan actually has religious roots dating way back to the Nara Period in the 7th century when Buddhist temples always had a large bathhouse. It was intended for the priesthood, but later the sick was also allowed to bathe. It was originally an Indian Buddhist tradition to cleanse the body and spirit by bathing.

From the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), ordinary people were allowed to enter the bath at temples. Also, the mushi-buro steam bath, originated by Kobo Daishi (774-835), was made available to the public via public baths.

No one knows exactly when the public bathhouse started as a business in Japan. The earliest confirmed record of the word "sento" was in a document from the Nichiren Buddhist sect written in 1266. There is also written record of Emperor Godaigo establishing a sento during his reign of 1321-24.

Then in 1591, a person named ISE Yoichi (伊勢与市)was the first to open a sento as a business in Edo (Tokyo). It was adjacent to a river. In those days, the bathing room had no windows and was completely dark. People already in the bath "cleared their throats" to make their presence known to the next person entering the bath. The entrance to the bathing room was a low, 80 cm-high opening through which you almost had to crawl through. It was small and right above the floor to minimize the escaping of heat and steam. There were no water faucets either. From the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the sento began to have a lounging area on the second floor for people to rest after the bath.

Incidentally, during the Edo Period, the sento was called yuya (湯屋)in Edo and furoba(風呂場)in the Kansai area (Osaka). In Edo, a bow and arrow was also used to indicate a sento because it had the same pronunciation as yuya(弓矢). Mixed bathing was also the norm during this time.

One interesting development of sento culture was the yuna (湯女)or bath women. Appearing as early as the 18th century, they were prostitutes working under the guise of back scrubbers for men in the bathhouse. The women wore normal cotton kimono and scrubbed backs during normal hours, but changed into sexy clothing for customers in the evenings.

The sento closed shop to normal bathers at 4 pm, and later re-opened to customers seeking "special" services. The women played the shamisen in the converted changing room as they waited for customers to take them upstairs for a private session. This service became so popular and lucrative that almost all sento in Edo constructed a "second floor" for hanky-panky. However in 1841, the bakufu government outlawed the yuna who was then forced to move to the legal, red-light district of Yoshiwara.

Another major blow to the sento was the banning of mixed bathing in the Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka areas by 1890. Today, mixed bathing can still be observed at certain hot springs in the countryside, especially in the Tohoku region in northern Japan. Many hot spring hotels also offer smaller, private bath rooms which you can rent per hour so you can bathe with your family (or spouse or girl/boyfriend).

In 1877, a totally new type of sento appeared in Kanda, Tokyo which served as the model for the modern sento today. Called the kairyo-buro(改良風呂), the reformed sento had a bathtub whose floor was lower than the bath room floor, the crawl-through opening to the bath room was eliminated, and the ceiling was made twice as high with high walls. Small windows near the ceiling were also installed to let the steam escape since bathers came for the hot water rather than the steam.

The sento was further improved by the early 20th century as tiles replaced the wooden flooring, electricity replaced the oil lamps, and water faucets were installed. After the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, all sento in Tokyo were reconstructed with tiles covering the floor and walls.

The tiles eventually became a canvas for various art work and pictures of Mt. Fuji, gods of good fortune, etc. (A collection of these is shown in the book.)

During World War II, many sento in Tokyo were destroyed. Of the 2,796 sento in business before the war started, only 400 survived by the war's end. Soon after the war, they were crowded places indeed (and sometimes roofless) and hotbeds for thievery. Some would come and exchange their tattered clothing for a better set of threads.

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If you want more on bathing go here has some pics and interesting things about bathing in Japan the history of it.