Health Benefits of Japanese Onsen
Is there anything more quintessentially Japanese than a trip to the onsen? Stripping down, rinsing off and relaxing into a pool of steaming-hot spring water is a lovely experience that millions of Japanese locals and tourists alike visit every year. But it’s not a national pastime for no reason. People swear by the health benefits of soaking in Japanese hot springs, saying it can cure everything from hypertension to arthritis. So, what can regular trips to an onsen actually do for your health?
The Ancient Use of Onsen
As with many things in Japanese culture, the practice of going to an onsen has roots in Shinto spirituality. Shinto practitioners have believed for centuries in misogi, or purification with water. Japanese people today still maintain that bathing cleanses both the body and the soul. A legend dating back to the early 7th century tells the story of a Buddhist monk that helped a boy heal his ailing grandfather with the power of a hot spring. Not only that, but in the 8th century, a number of Buddhist text reached Japan from the nearby mainlands, one of which extolled the virtues of bathing in hot water. It was said that hot spring water could cure seven ailments and bestow seven blessings on those that bathe in it. With how nice it feels to soak in hot water, it’s no surprise that the practice caught on.
Much, much later, during the Edo period, a master of traditional medicine named Goto Konzan (1659-1733) theorized that illnesses stem from a blockage of energy, or ki, in the body. He reasoned that a bath in hot water, which does in fact raise the heart rate and elevate blood pressure, would increase one’s flow of ki, remove blockages and restore the balance of energy in the body. Japan’s natural abundance of hot springs caused onsen therapy to boom in popularity, and it remains a cornerstone of Japanese culture today.
The Real Benefits?
Onsen are obviously spiritually important in Japan, but aside from metaphysical stuff about cleansing the soul and making your ki flow, what are the health benefits?
As it turns out, there are quite a few ailments that a regular hot spring trip might help with. All spring water has a natural dose of minerals derived from its source mountain, and lots of these minerals are good for the skin. Most onsen are classified by their mineral composition. Sulfur onsen are said to be good for arthritis, psoriasis and eczema. Iron onsen may help heal anemia. Silica onsen work wonders on dry and dull skin, and there’s even such a thing as radium onsen, which some say help with joint pain, aching muscles and neuralgia (nerve pain).
Even without fancy mineral blends, the simple act of soaking in hot water can have health benefits in itself. As previously mentioned, submersion in hot water increases circulation, which is believed to aid the healing process of strained muscles and joints. It’s the same principle as putting a hot water bottle on a muscle cramp. Buoyancy, or the act of floating, also takes strain off your joints and back, and many people struggling with arthritis swear by the pain-relieving power of a warm bath. Some also say that the body’s natural process of cooling down after a soak in a hot onsen helps relaxation and promotes deeper, better sleep.
One thing is for sure about onsen—whether you want to cleanse your soul and get your ki flowing, ease your aches and pains, or just take a load off for the night in a beautiful hot spring, onsen are a can’t-miss attraction for any tourist. And another thing: after you hop out of the bath, you’ll want to get right to your nightly skincare routine and feel the difference on your fresh new skin. So check out Keshoume’s skincare stock and see what you might want to bring with you on your unforgettable onsen trip.
Rowan Thompson - July 27, 2020
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