The Japanese Ofuro, or bath, is such a treat for the body, mind and spirit. I really think if every household had one, the world would be a better place! Okay, you might think, how could a bath change society. Although this sounds like an exaggeration, I do think it’s a wonderful way to unwind, reflect, meditate and heal. It helps heal because it helps with circulation. Just watch a baby having a bath and you know it must be good for you because they look so happy!
So, let’s begin with my question: are you a bath person or a shower person? If you never grew up with a bath, you are probably a shower person. If you had baths as a child, you are probably a bath person – this is just my assumption. But, that being said, a friend who went to boarding school from a young age said her bath water was only a few inches deep, so she has such bad memories of a bath. When I heard that, I never knew that some people had to have baths like that. I guess when water is scarce and expensive, we do things to help cut costs. In the U. S. and Japan we are blessed that there is such an abundant supply of water. But, how long is that going to last?
Well, if you can’t already tell, I am a bath person. If you are a shower person, I hope this post will get you to re-think the bath and encourage you to take one every now and then. It’s really wonderful!
Okay, back to the Japanese bath or ofuro. What is an ofuro? What’s the difference between a Japanese bath and a Western bath? Is it size, shape or what?
photo: Chris 73
The main difference is not what but how one takes a bath. First, look at the photo above. This is a public bath or sento. The large tubs in the back are the soaking baths and the partition indicates that there are two tubs usually one is extremely hot and the other is comfortably hot. These tubs are about thigh deep, this is an important point. Yes, these tubs are deep enough that when you sit on the bottom of the tub, the water level will come up to your shoulders or even higher, to your neck.
Now look at the center low tiled walls. Down at shin level are faucets. This is what I would call the “washing station”. One sits down on a little stool, facing the wall with all their washing supplies on the ledge, right in front of the faucet with a bathing bowl. To wash, you fill your bowl with water and pour it over your body and scrub. When all done, you rinse by filling up the bowl as many times as necessary and pour the water to wash the suds away. You shampoo your hair in the same manner.
So, the first step is to go to a washing station and wash your body. Shampooing the hair is an option, not a requirement in a public bath, but it is good manners to keep your hair up so it doesn’t touch the soaking tub water; either wrap with a towel, or put it up with a clip. The tubs are for soaking only. You do not wash in the tub, as everyone will use it to just soak. Therefore, there is no washing, rubbing or scrubbing in the tub.
After washing at the station you are now ready to enter the soaking tubs and beware, they are HOT! Let, the hot water relax your muscles and wash away the day’s troubles. When you soak in deep water, you can begin to feel your shoulder muscles drop. Breathe slowly and deeply. This is what I call therapy!
After a while, you will come to a point where your body temperature rises and you start to feel a bit uncomfortable because you’re getting too hot. At this time, you go back to the washing station and pour some cool water and scrub away again. Many go in and out of the ofuro several times during one bath session. You will not only be squeaky clean but you will feel relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated. Spending time soaking in hot water is really one of the best feelings and a great way to relieve stress.
Since many of us don’t have an ofuro, we have to make do with what we have. I fill my bath tub as high as it can go and as hot as I can take it. At the local bath shop I found a little gadget that blocks the overflow drain so the water can be filled higher. Sometimes I add some bath oils, salts or powders as aroma therapy. Then I sit and soak, pour water over my shoulders and just relax. I can feel the blood circulating in my hands and feet. If you suffer from poor circulation like me, a bath really helps. Be aware of all your senses: the water on your skin, the smells of the oils, the sound of water, your muscles relaxing and let your mind unwind. Breathe deeply and try to soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Then drain the tub and have a shower to wash away the day’s worries. Why not have a bath tonight, I am!