I remember the first time I heard about Japanese onsen
Alright, what's the onsen?
Okay, onsen means hot spring and people bathing in one look like this.
But there's also sento which is a public bathing facility people bathing in one look like this
Yeah, unless you know where the water is coming from they can look exactly the same
the main difference is that onsen use natural spring water whereas cento use heated tap water
But as always
Osaka sometimes does it different and onsen can be cento, so read the fine print if you really want to know more
But back to my story about how I first heard about onsen.
In my youth when I used to work summers as a painter
My coworker told me about his trip to Japan with his Japanese girlfriend
I was quite surprised to hear they visited a mixed bathing facility. Where yes they were both naked
I know certain Europeans, just love to flaunt their nudity
But as a Canadian, this felt all sorts of wrong, just so you don't get the wrong idea
Nowadays most Japanese public bathing is done with the same gender
But still I thought how could bathing naked with a bunch of other dudes be relaxing?
Why do Japanese love bathing?
Well, let me tell you, have you ever read Shogun?
if you have or if you've seen the TV miniseries you totally know
Oh no, no, I don't
Like hell! A bath will make you foul sick
You see, back in the time period this is taking place.
The 1600s, the English used to think bathing might foul your health with bad air
This theory of bad air was called miasma.
And was prevalent during the times of cholera and dundundun...
if it were me I believed in the bad air theory too after learning that half my ancestors died during the plague
But having been mostly closed off to the world at this time.
The average Japanese villager would have thought this theory plain crazy
Get out of my way
Sometimes people don't know what's best for them and need to be shown the way despite their kicking and screaming,
But when it's right, It's right
But I've gotten ahead of myself
Bathing in Japan started off so long ago
We're talking about over a thousand years
that historians don't have conclusive reasons for how it got started
A simple explanation can be that since Japan is a volcanic island and is chock full of natural Hot Springs
Was bound to happen that people would want to get naked and jump in
Most history texts I've read posit the start of onsen culture in Japan
was associated with Buddhist temples and religious bathings
Bathing at a temple was first a thing only for priests
But then it opened up to the sick who could benefit from the healing powers of the natural springs
Which were full of acids and minerals.
Then the rich heard about this and thought:
Hey, I'm going to build one just for me because why share?
by the 1600s also known as the beginning of the edo period
Two types of commercial bathing were popular in Japan.
In the East, think Tokyo
which is formally called Edo, hence the name of the era.
there were bath houses with pools of water called Yuya
Which literally means hot water shop.
In the West, think Osaka.
Bathing was more about the steam and called mushi Bulo,
which literally means steam baths
Is this usual?
For you to be...to be...
-To be sharing a bath? -emm
In 1869, at the start of the Meiji period.
Laws were put in place to separate bathing by gender
We have no shame of our body
Everything is natural and normal
And because there is so many of us
That is also necessary
Apparently, the American commander Commodore Perry thought that doing so wasn't moral,
and then the Japanese government was like...
oh no! Let's stop this,
then some japanese proprietors says, you want me to build a whole new bath house just to separate the people?
How about I put this small board here to divide it?
That didn't all stop the peeping Tanaka's
Other operators came up with a simple idea of
only allowing in certain genders at spacific times of the day
while others decided to choose sides and specialize in a single gender
Despite the workarounds of bathhouses
Rules weren't always followed.
This must be a huge shock for those who know the propensity of the Japanese to follow rules
Someday you will understand
Someday you'll understand
But to tell the truth, varying laws have attempted to curtail kon-yoku, which is mixed bathing
Since way before the Meiji period and all the way up until after World War two
The latest laws on the books prohibit mixed gender bathing.
Though, there's an exception for young kids
Mixed gender bathing is still allowed today
as places that allowed it before the laws were put into place or grandfathered in
By the time we hit the 1970s we reach peak bathhouses
Population was booming and the economy as well
But as Japan recovered and became an economic superpower
bathtubs became the standard in new homes and bath houses weren't as needed on a regular basis
So now that there's virtually no immediate need to bathe outside the home.
Why is communal bathing still a very popular activity in Japan?
If you've ever seen japanese dramas, animes or TV shows, you've probably witnessed a group bathing scene
Bathing to relax is probably the easiest way to explain why the Japanese love going to public baths
unlike previous iterations of bath houses
Modern ones have become increasingly like spas
Take the super sento as an example
Which roughly translates into super public bathhouse.
Beyond the bathing and steam room facilities,
you can get massages, body scrubs, relaxation rooms and food
Then there's theme park onsen
Oedo onsen, offers up an old-school summer festival like atmosphere
of a bygone Tokyo once Edo
kids can play games
adults drink in the bar
and couples stroll in the outdoor foot baths
and everyone can do it wearing a yukata
And then, there's the more classic ryokan experience, ryokan meaning traditional japanese inn
There you often stay overnight in a tatami room
and some even bring your meals to the room for the ultimate in room service
Beyond the hot springs they can support recreational facilities like ping pong, karaoke and swimming
In Japan clean is beautiful
Really, the ki lii kanji means clean, beautiful, pretty, and pure all at once
This is also why toilets, for the most part are separated from bathing areas
It's also why you take off your shoes before entering a home, and it's also why you'd wash yourself before entering the bath
I will wash my body and go there
-How does it feel, Shin-chan? -Good
Because clean is beautiful
Something I didn't quite believe at first was the healing powers of the hot springs
Japan has had many scientists studying their properties over the years
Depending on which mix of acid or minerals you go with,
it can treat constipation
menstrual pain, diabetes, aching muscles, rheumatism and other funny elements
While I haven't used onsen to specifically cure anything
I can vouch for the fact that some do give you ultra-smooth skin, if only it wasn't a temporary change
Bathing to be the same
in Japanese there's a term called "Hidaka Natsuki I", or: "Naked Association"
It's the feeling that naked in an onsen all are equal
Whether you're a high-flying CEO or pilot or a lowly youtuber.
Without our uniforms, there's no way to tell who's who
This is closely related to a pseudo English Japanese word "skinship"
It describes intimacy between mother and child
Now it has a broader meaning of bonding through physical contact
Whether it be hugging or bathing with children
When my children were born,
the hospital in Canada encouraged me to go skin-to-skin with my babies
so I think this skinship thing is not an entirely foreign concept to the West
Although I think we started practicing it a bit... just a little bit sooner than the Japanese
All things aside
Cost maybe another simple answer for why Japanese love to bathe so much
When you think about going to therapeutic baths in Canada.
If you can find one you can easily spend over $50
There's a public pool. Type of hot springs,
but it's not at all close to the cento or onsen experience you can get in Japan
I don't think my young self would have ever thought this,
but wearing a bathing suit in the hot spring? gross!
Hey, if you've ever tried going naked in a hot spring in Japan
and then prefer the hot springs in Canada with a bathing suit
Please let me know, I'd be surprised but curious to know why
In Japan you can usually get into a public bath for under ten dollars
Although if it's a fancy or themed one, the price could be double or triple
Take the hot spring town we visited. We paid sixteen hundred yen for a pass to see three of the top ones there
Food is also generally not spa priced
But you can get a decent meal for under $10
so really, you can get dinner and a hot spring at your local "Super Cento" for under $20
Perhaps the real reason Japanese love bathing is the natural animal instinct to do so
A special thanks goes out to all those that made this video possible
Thank you so very much.
Do you like getting naked and bathing together where you're from?
Oh, and one last thing
Did you know that there's a Shinto practice, Shintoism is japan's other major religion by the way, called "Misogi"?
It's ritual purification by water, very cold water
Some have put forth that this is the real start of bathing in Japan