In the west, a bath is a place we go to cleanse our body. In Japan, one bathes to cleanse the soul.
I have lived my life outside of Japan now for seven years now. Yet wherever I live, elements of the Japanese culture linger. I start the day with a nutritious Japanese breakfast. And I enjoy nothing more than bringing an end to a busy day by slowly sinking into the hot water of a bath. Perhaps I was destined to return to the Hepburn region, renowned for its mineral springs, where people have been coming for decades to take the waters.
In Japan, no stay at a traditional inn is complete without the bathing ritual which holds significant meaning for the Japanese. Stroking the body with soap, removing a day’s dirt and floating in a warm watery buoyant embrace before the evening meal is served. At Shizuka Ryokan in Hepburn, these are pleasures you can enjoy in your own room overlooking your private courtyard garden.
Before even sinking into the bath, you first wash your body with a hand-held shower or bucket. With your body duly cleansed, it is now the turn of the soul, which is cleansed in a bath. The profound sense of relaxation produced by the hot water, not only soothes the soul but also eases muscular tension. Bathing is also regarded as a pleasant way to spend time with family and friends; to enjoy the beauty of nature; and to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life as you sit awhile in uninterrupted, healing silence and just be.
In Japan, the public bath is not just a place to relax and commune with your inner self, but a social experience that brings people together and dismantles class barriers. No matter what walk of life, the bathers’ blissful smiles all meet in the steam rising from the hot water. There’s a saying “hadaka no tsukiai” which translates as ‘communication without clothes’. There is an unguarded ease of communication in the bath.