We Finns really love sauna. There are 5.5 million people in Finland and approximately 2,5 million saunas. That means there is a sauna in almost every home. But we are not the only ones who have a strong bathing culture.
I recently learned that for Japanese people bathing is as an essential part of their everyday life as a sauna is for Finns. Bathing is an excellent source of health, but also an important source of relief especially during the hard times. According a newspaper article a temporary public bath was quickly set up near a shelter for those left homeless by the tsunami.
Bathing has a long history in Japan and one of the most traditional baths are onsens, natural hot springs. There are many types of onsens, distinguished by the minerals dissolved in the water. Different minerals provide different kinds of health benefits, but common for all of them is a relaxing effect for body and mind.
Natural hot springs are numerous and still highly popular across Japan. Every region in the country has its own hot springs and spa resorts.
My friend Mia Watabe, originally from Japan, tells me that the Japanese love to go to onsen hot springs on their vacation.
– We stay at a traditional Japanese resort called a ryokan, we dress in a yukata and enjoy the onsen. We usually go there with friends, and family or with coworkers. It can be expensive so people generally don’t go more than once or twice a year. Hakone is a popular place if you want to try an onsen in Japan.
And If we Finns are used to cultivating our bath culture at home, so do the Japanese people.
– Most of the people take a bath at home every night. The bathrooms are designed in a way that you are able to take a shower first and then take a hot steaming bath. That way the bath is kept clean for the next family member, Mia says.
There are also some food traditions associated with the bathing culture.
– As you know, the Japanese love to drink green tea and normally they eat elaborately prepared Japanese cuisine called kaiseki ryori when they stay at a ryokan.
And because we both live far away from our motherland, I had to ask Mia if she misses the tradition of onsen.
– Yes, I really miss Japanese onsens. It’s an experience that I can only have in Japan.
Kaiseki-ryori, a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, consists of a sequence of dishes, each often small and artfully arranged.
Photos: © Benoist Sébire