A bath is not about getting clean, but is rather a luxurious sensory experience meant to connect with the sensations of heat, water, and scent. Every night, almost all of Japan’s 127 million citizens engage in the ritual of furo at home: a warm, soothing bath, traditionally made of aromatic hinoki wood, which is considered sacred.
The sento or public baths are referenced in stories of Kyoto during the Heian period (794–1185). They still exist but are a relic of a time when neighborhoods bathed together because individual homes did not have furo.
The most indulgent Japanese bathing ritual is in the traditional onsen hot springs where a long soak is elevated to an almost spiritual art. Each onsen boasts different benefits depending on the minerals.
There are regional distinctions that make the bathing ritual a truly local experience. In the orchard region of Nagoya, for example, crimson apples may be found bobbing in the water. In the tea-growing area of Shizuoka, little floating baskets packed with green tea can be found in the bath. Other common additives include oranges or yuzu.
Photo: Jennifer Burk via Unsplash