Before I go on– I just want to let you know that I’m going to start recaps tomorrow! (Planning ahead– #determinedface.jpg)
So, as I said yesterday, I am officially staying at the Ryokan Heianbo in Kyoto. We’ll be there for two nights and I am so thrilled for the ‘authentic Japanese experience’ that I haven’t stopped doing my dance moves since we got the confirmation. One thing that is a little daunting, though… is the authentic Japanese bath experience.
When we started looking at hotels in Tokyo (which is huge and metropolitan, obvz) we were surprised by the amount of “shared baths” that were listed. In some cases, you are sharing a bath with your hotel neighbor, in other cases, you are sharing a bath with your entire floor– something Napkin and I are hardly used to. When it came to Kyoto and Ryokans, it was almost impossible to find a Japanese style room with a private bath– unless you want to pay a pretty penny. The Kyoto Ryokan idea was sort of last minute for us so we don’t have a ton of yen left to work with. I really wanted to stay in a Ryokan so we decided that we would do a private room with a shared bath. This is what I’m talking about:
(photo source: google)
This is the womens’ bath. The baths are separated by gender, thank goodness. A room with shared baths is surprisingly less expensive when booking at a traditional inn– I’m guessing that the reason is because most foreigners are uncomfortable with the idea. I’ve learned, in researching Japan, that there are a few co-ed baths still left in Japan– and that public baths used to be entirely unisex. #Embarrassedface.jpg
Going back to nowadays, there’s certain etiquette that needs to be followed when using the common bath (called “onsen” or “sento.” I’m pretty sure “onsen” refers to hot springs, or mineral baths and “sento” is your common bath, like the one pictured above.)
Here’s a quick roundup of what to do: (READ THIS, NAPKIN)
- In most public bath situations, (most likely your hotel) you will be given a” yukata.” A yukata is a unisex, casual robe. From what I’ve learned, it is very common to see a lot of people roaming hotels wearing yukatas.
- You will also be given a small, oblong towel. I’ve read that you can take a larger bath towel with you. So bring one! (We are, for instance, carrying towels with us in our luggage as some places charge you extra for towels. Save money! Thank me later.)
- Once you enter the bathroom, there are places to put your shoes (or most likely your slippers, as shoes are rarely worn indoors anywhere– sometimes even restaurants!) and also a locker or basket to put your belongings in- your yukata, specifically. And your larger bath towel!
- Now you’re nakey and ready for the bath proper. This is where your oblong towel comes in.
- Even though you are going to be naked in front of other people, this isn’t the time to strut your stuff. Use your oblong towel to cover as much of your “bathing suit area” as possible. (You get it.)
- DON’T YOU DARE GET IN THAT BATH YET. The bath is for soaking, relaxation and reflection, okay?!? Not for bathing! You will find a station of shower heads and stools– sort of like this:
(photo source: google– the shower stations at Heianbo!)
- You will give your stool a little wipe with the shower head and towel and then sit. (This is the scariest part to me and something I will try and avoid? I don’t know if I want to sit myself down the same place so many other butts have gone.) Normally there is shampoo, soap, etc and THIS is where you actually bathe. Your little towel now doubles as a wash cloth and all of your scrubbing, hair washing, etc, happens here. I’ve read that the Japanese are very serious about scrubbing themselves down– so modestly mimic what you see, I guess. You can also bring your own toiletries (which is a good idea, if you’re going to a paid “sento” or “onsen” as they can charge you for soap if it’s not there already.) I’m curious about shaving, and from what I’ve looked up, it’s generally acceptable. If in doubt, ask the attendant.
- Once you’re scrubbed and rinsed, you can head to the actual bath. Again, with your towel, DO NOT put it in the bath. Make sure that it, too, has been rinsed of any soap. Either fold it and keep it beside you or let it rest behind your head. You can also let it rest on top of your head. I’ve heard that Japanese baths are VERY hot so don’t go diving in or anything.
- Speaking of diving, loud conversation or horsing around are prohibited. You’re supposed to be relaxing– so keep it down, “Gaijin.” (white dude.)
- Once you’re totally relaxed and pruny, you’re ready to exit. Use your little towel for modesty’s sake and make your way back to the lockers or baskets where you stored your things. Dry off with your large towel! Grab your yukata. Strut back to your room, hot stuff.
Interesting rumor I’ve read: Don’t pee pee in the pool. If you do, there’s a special mix of chemicals in the water that will turn your little mistake bright purple and everyone will know. : )
Here’s a great little website with various etiquette tips– the header image made me LOL.
Ki Wo Tsukete!
Oh! And don’t forget to vote on how you want me to blog about Japan once I get to Tokyo! (You voting makes me feel like you’re reading my blog. Like, REALLY reading my blog.)
Oh! And if you’re reading this and you have more Japanese bath experience than I do (which is none, currently) let me know if I messed anything up!
This is awesome. And you are awesome for being brave enough to try! I pee too easily in hot water so there’s probably no way I’d risk the embarrassment :p
It was totally awesome! And no one ever makes eye contact so maybe, just maybe, you could take your chances.
I was looking through your notes on bath etiquette very thoroughly, and it looks like you got it all! Even the stuff about keeping your bath towel out of the bath. I like to keep mine on my head when I’m soaking. 🙂
Hahaha, I have never tested the purple pee myth though. How interesting. Although I used to feel shy, I love bathing in onsen and sento now. Enjoy it! No one judges you. 🙂
You know what’s funny about that? I spent a solid month trying to make sure that I was perfectly polite and respectful… And I ended up being the only person in the bath. TWICE!
Seriously?? Like people left the bath when you came in??
No no! Like, I was the only person there. I had the bath all to myself!
Ahhhh hahaha, ok. Big difference! I’d be surprised if people went out of their way to leave the bath.
Lucky then! You got it all to yourself~ 🙂
Totally lucky! And prepared for next time!
Ahhhh this is amazing! I’m definitely visiting a Japanese bath! (: One thing though, people don’t care about being naked in front of others – so even a foreigner wouldn’t get stared at? Our womanly bodies differ quite a lot to Japanese, so if you’re in with a group of others will it change anything? It’ll be just a relaxing time being naked with people?
My experiences were pretty tame but I guarantee that you won’t be stared at! Give it a try!
I will definitely, thanks to your post! 🙂