Thursday, June 21, 2007

Japanese sento is closer to Turkish Hamam than banya or sauna.

Japanese bath ‘sento’ reminds of the Roman bath presented by the Turkish Hamam in the modern World(look through Living on the last floor you can build your own Turkish Hamam). They both were created for relaxation and contemplation. Soaking, submerged to the chin, you have a sensual pleasure and a feeling of well-being and harmony with the natural surroundings, perhaps the garden or landscape beyond. So here they don’t cultivate the hard style groovy procedures which we have to undergo in Russian banya or Finnish sauna. Here you can take pleasure without enduring extra high temperature and hot steam. Japanese bath reflects the traditions and culture of Japan, a unique and interesting country.
Japanese bath ‘sento’ has existed for over 400 years in Japan, but a post-war construction boom in residential housing without bathing facilities or running water cemented its prominence in the community. The bath numbers are going down today as Japanese can now afford baths or showers in their own homes. They say that sento are disappearing at the rate of one a day. Numbers peaked in 1964 at 23,016, but are currently at 8,422. For a class-conscious society, the sento has become an embarrassing reminder of an impoverished past. Japanese bath ‘sento’ remains a veritable oasis in many communities, especially in the suffocating summers. As an example, in the northern suburbs of Osaka, a mega-sento was built in the 1960s for families. On a Friday night, this groovy water world, featuring an outdoor hot spring and noodle bar, is the Al’s Aquatic Diner of family entertainment. Operating 24/7, this sento is a more modest and family-oriented version of some of the wilder forms of Japanese bath entertainment that exists today.
In the past, Japanese people enjoyed the daily ritual with their relatives and friends in a public bath (the ‘sento’) or in a hot spring bath (the ‘onsen’). It was not until the middle of this century that the water supply made it possible for most people to have a private ‘ofuro’, although the ‘onsen’ and the ‘sento’ remain popular for many Japanese people. The popularity of the Hot Springs ‘onsen’ is connected with the geological age of the places and centuries-old work on accomplishing by great Japanese masters of landscape design.
Wonderful Japanese landscape is the main thing in the ‘sento’ too. The tub location close to nature is the appealing feature of the Japanese bath. Meditating under a blooming ‘sakura’ is as important for Japanese as sweating in hot steam chamber for Russians. For more look through:
- What's most important in Finnish sauna or Russian banya?,
- Master Boris and his “venik” – its better then Viagra! and
- I can have more health & beauty only in Russian bath than in Finnish sauna!.
Japan was quite an isolated country for a long time barring foreigners from entering these least private of public places. Incidences of drunken Russian sailors’ water-fighting in the bathhouses and ‘onsen’ of the northern island of Hokkaido have fuelled a tabloid debate about whether or not the hairy barbarian with little understanding of the subtle nuances of Japanese culture should be tolerated. I guess that the incident caused the argument which bath system is better; Russian ‘banya’ or Japanese ‘sento’. If a few simple rules are followed, a ‘sento’ visit by the alien poses no problem and is an excellent opportunity to pay homage to Japanese ingenuity and high standards of cleanliness, as well as to get a glimpse of what is a vanishing monument of Japanese culture. So I have posted the list of the rules in my previous article Japanese bath ‘sento’ -- Sauna in the blooming garden.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Japanese bath ‘sento’ -- Sauna in the blooming garden

Being keen on the world traditions of bath culture I have changed my favorite Thailand into super-modern Japan. I have enjoyed and learned Finnish Saunas in Finland, Russian banya in Russia and Turkish Hamam in Turkey. For more look through
- 7 things to learn about sauna not to waste money building a bath house and be careful visiting banya or sauna or
- Sauna accessories rightly using; don't fit into the steam room if you are booted and drunk! and
- You can easily build Russian banya. My pursuit was to get terms of intimacy with well-known Japanese bath ‘sento’. My previous attempts to learn more about Japanese bath without visiting their Motherland failed. Moreover most bath accessories: tubs, baskets, buckets etc. in Japanese-like rooms were labeled ‘made in China’. You can imagine my excitement when I first saw the Nikko Hot Springs.
First of all I was impressed by Japanese responsibility for keeping the rules in ‘sento’. The list of these rules which I heard from my Japanese guide was the same as the following I found in the Net:
- Take off your clothes in the changing room
- Put clothes in the basket or shelf
- Enter the bathroom with a small towel and your amenities
- There will be a bucket beside the tub, scoop out some water and pour it over yourself to rinse your body before getting in the bathtub
- Soak in the bathtub. Remember not to bring anything into the tub, not even a towel
- Get out of the tub and wash your body or hair in front of the faucet; It should be done outside of the tub
- Rinse off soap and shampoo well
- Get in the bathtub again if you want
- Rinse your body with clean warm water in front of faucet
- Dry your body with your small towel before you go to the changing room
- Dry your body with your bath towel and dress in the changing room.
Some tips:
- Do not use soap in the tub
- The water in the tub tends to be hot in Japan. You can adjust it by running cold water, but don't overdo it
- Usually, the tub water is used by others. Please remember not to drain the water when you are finished.
Secondly I was affected by strict face (and ass) control concerning tattoos on parts of the body. One girl in our group was not allowed into the ‘sento’ rooms only for wearing a tiny butterfly tattoo on her fanny.
Then I was impressed by the fact that you have to leave your shoes at the front door and walk a long way to the changing room, which could confuse Paul Wolfowitz as well.
Finally worldwide known Japanese wonderful nature penetrates through ‘sento’ bath procedures as the wooden and stone tubs are outside among trees and bushes. Taking a bath you are surrounded by blooming gardens. For more about Japan look through my The Thai Tramp blog.