The history of bath in Japan begins in the 6th Century with the introduction of Buddist purification rituals. The custom was believed to cleanse the body and spirit to promote improved health using heat and steam. This why many temples in Japan have baths.
The Edo period (1603-1868) saw bathing culture change as sento (bath houses) allowed this ritual to be available to the common people, rather than being reserved for the royal and devine.
Another hallmark of this period is the mixed bath where men and women shared public bathing space, and was considered natural during this time period. Later during the Meiji period, nude mixed bathing was banned, as a preservation of public morals.
Today many Japanese pride themselves on their love of bath, and while an increase of in house baths has decreased the prevalence of public baths, the connection to ritual, legend and history still remains.
Sento (bath house) culture is like participating in a ritual from the history books where different classes were humbled and could meet with commoners on a level standing.
As a part of the cleansing ritual, all guests pass through a foot bath to cleans any unwelcome spirits from the outside world.
Common Rules of Bathing
Due to the spiritual history of bath in Japan there are a few basic manners to observe while enjoying this ritual.
1/ Please take off shoes before entering the center. The reason for this is to keep the center clean, but it is also a great offence to wear shoes from outside into the bathhouse.
2/ Being loud is considered inconsiderate. The reason for this is that everyone is trying to relax, and excitement and happiness is shown by being zen. Being loud will cut into other people’s relaxation and ritual.
3/ Women with long hair should tie it up away from the water. No one likes to see other people’s hair floating in the water!
4/ Wash your body with hot water (called kakeyu) before entering the bath. Not only does this keep the center clean, but it also starts the cleansing ritual.
5/ Do not scrub your body while in the bath. While the skin does become nice and soft from the bath, if you scrub it will dirty the baths and stop others from enjoying the ritual.
6/ Do not take your towel into the bath.
You might make the water dirty! Either place the towel on top of your head or use the shelves in the bathing room to store it while you soak.
7/ Do not take any chemicals into the bath. In the sento (public bath) we are all trying to bath, and for us all to enjoy putting of face masks and sunscreen will dirty the water and stop others from enjoying the ritual