Why Do Japanese People Take Baths Every Day?
Keeping clean is a skincare staple. But in Japan, it’s more than just part of a beauty routine. A 2019 survey from Intage says that 60% of Japanese people bathe every day, instead of opting for a quick shower.
Japan’s history with baths goes back to the 6th century—long before the West caught onto the idea that using soap and water was actually good for them. Let’s look at how bathing became such a big deal in Japan.
The Roots of Japanese Baths
Bathing began with Buddhism and Shintoism. People acknowledged the healing and cleansing properties of baths and promoted bathing as an important part of their beliefs.
Public bathing in Japan started with the Heian Empress Kōmyō. She offered charity baths for poor people who visited temples. Soon, charity baths gained popularity and were offered to anyone, no matter their social status. When the first public bathhouses came about in the late Heian period, almost everyone began bathing daily. By the Edo period, it was an unquestioned part of living in Japan.
Later, as modernization spread, Japanese homes included their own baths, known as ofuro. During that time, the tradition of bathing together, especially with strangers, died off a little as Japan adopted more Western ideas.
Japan still has some public bathhouses, also called sento, and hot springs, or onsen, where people go to relax and bathe in a more social setting. But in general, they do most of their bathing in more private spaces.
What Makes Baths So Different?
When you think of a bath, you probably think of jumping straight into the water for a good soak. Not so in Japan.
To the Japanese, bathing is a process. You wash yourself before you get in the bath to cleanse your body of the day’s dirt and grime. That’s one of the main reasons why most Japanese people bathe at night, instead of in the morning.
Although much of Japan’s culture revolves around efficiency and timeliness, bathing is the one part of the day that people can kick back and relax without rushing. They’re more like an end-of-day ritual that makes the day’s tension melt away before bed.
In most homes, families share the same bathwater. I know, it sounds gross when you think of Western bathing. But remember that in Japan, people wash before their baths, so they’re clean when they go in. You’re not bathing in someone else’s dirty water. Some families even bathe together, a tradition called “skinship” that represents familial closeness.
In Japan, baths are more than an obligatory scrubbing. That doesn’t mean no one goes in for a quick shower, especially in the hot summers. Still, it’s more about tradition than obligation.
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Sarah Wood - January 4, 2021
“How Often Do Japanese Bathe? Results of 5 Japanese Surveys.” Alex Rockin’ Japan. https://www.alexrockinjapan.com/how-often-do-japanese-bathe/#:~:text=Bathing%20surveys%20conducted%20in%20Japan,all%20is%20less%20than%205%25. Accessed 17 December 2020.
“Japanese Bathing Culture: Sento, Onsen, and Ofuro.” Hotel Zen Tokyo. https://www.hotelzen.jp/blog/japanese-bath-houses/. Accessed 17 December 2020.