How do the Japanese keep public bathrooms clean?

Volcanic springs in Japan: the hottest temptation

The Japanese love to dive into the mineral bath. That is tradition, healthy and community-building.

Relaxation in the hot bath. Image: imago / Xinhua

Bathing is a basic need in Japan. A ritual that has to be celebrated according to a set schedule. Each house has one ofuro, a bathroom separate from the toilet. Stressed Japanese people come to rest here at the end of the day.

The bathroom is always simple, but aesthetically furnished, an ikebana arrangement or decorative tiles draw the eye without distracting from the essentials: the ritualistic cleansing of the body and, according to the Japanese philosophy, of the mind.

Before the bather sits in the very high bathtub, which is filled with very hot and very clear water, he scrubs himself clean until the body glows pale pink. He usually has a lot of space for this because the entire bathroom, with the exception of the tub, is intended for cleaning.

To do this, you take a small plastic stool, sponge and soap and, after scrubbing, pour yourself over with warm water from available wooden tubs while sitting. Many households now also have shower fittings for this purpose.

Tension is guaranteed to be released

The floor is made of stone or tile, preferably gray or earthy colors, tapering to a sink with a drain and rough enough not to slip. Only after the extensive cleaning can the bathing guest slide into the full tub, the water temperature of which remains the same thanks to automatic flow control: around 50 degrees Celsius.

This is hot. So hot that it feels cold at first. But after just one minute the limbs start to say "ahhh", muscle tension is released, and canted vertebrae jump back into place. Bath salt or even foam is frowned upon, almost unthinkable in purist Japan. After the bath, the host and his family go into the hotel in a strictly hierarchical order ofuro, in the same water.

Naked and shiny

From the time when not every family has its own ofuro decreed, the public baths come from sentô, that still exist today. There, too, the Japanese first wash themselves thoroughly clean. Men and women, separated from each other, then slide into the hot communal hot tub, naked and shiny, just a small washcloth-sized towel on their head that tenugui. It is used to wipe off sweat, which seems paradoxical in view of the location, but in fact you sweat permanently in the Japanese bath due to the high water and air temperature. It also serves as a discreet cover when stepping out of the water.

Modern sentô also have saunas, massages and relaxation rooms on offer. For many Japanese, the visit is in sentô socially important. You believe that you can create emotional closeness to other people through physical closeness and have coined a word for it: "skinship".

The luxury version of the sentô is this onsen. The numerous onsen of the country even meet the demands of pampered western spa visitors. A onsen is a hot spring of volcanic origin, but the Japanese usually understand it to include the connected wellness areas and hostels. The water of the springs is particularly rich in minerals, supposedly promotes health and helps against various ailments.

A practiced ritual

At the entrance the guest receives a bathrobe, towels and of course the obligatory mini towel, the tenugui. The rooms are often decorated in a traditional Japanese style, with tatami floors and futons for sleeping. In the bathing area, which is mostly separated by gender, this is already possible from the ofuro and sentô familiar image: Japanese people sitting on a stool ritually and devotedly soaping, scrubbing and showering themselves. By the way, getting up from the plastic hump during the shower is frowned upon, but body shaving is common.

Most of the guests leave, freshly cleaned, that tenugui holding in front of the genital area, straight to the hot spring. Then they slide into the hot, mineral-rich water. The blood circulation is stimulated within seconds and the whole body relaxes. Silence. Relaxation. At the latest when the skin on your toes becomes wrinkled, it's time to go out. Wrapped in a warm bathrobe or the typical one yukata Now especially male visitors are looking for a vending machine and have a cold coffee with milk. Why remains one of the many puzzles this country poses. But you don't have to understand all rituals. The coffee with milk tastes surprisingly good after several baths.

Monkeys also like to bathe

Even the monkeys in Japan got a taste for it. Onsen-Guests in the snowy region around the city of Nagano are sometimes visited by red-faced macaques, who make the long winter more bearable with a bath in the hot springs. For hours they sit in the hot water, with their red faces in harmony with the red-faced people. An image for the gods who created these hot volcanic springs.

By the way: The rumors of Japanese tourists who regularly flood German hotel rooms are true. Japanese people who are in Europe for the first time simply do not know what to do with the small shower trays in the wet rooms. You could not have guessed that the floor drainage common in Japan is missing in German hotels. Since it's so embarrassing that the toilet is in the same room as the bathtub.