The origins of the Japanese bathing culture date back to the Buddhist temples in India, from where it spread to China and finally to Japan (710 to 784). Originally and due to their religious background, these were baths, located in a temple. Traditionally, men and women bathed together and the segregation in early Japanese baths occurred only among classes, for instance, a samurai would not bath with a merchant, though this time is already passed. The law, prohibiting a mixed bathing, was passed in 1870 with the arrival of foreigners to the country. Although today's baths are sexually segregated, there are some of them, not actually many, which preserve old days' traditions.
The Japanese spend about two hours in a bath and one more aim of the Japanese bathing is a communication and interaction. From a psychological point of view, our clothes and makeup is a layer of defense, giving a person a status or delivering a message or a statement. Everybody is naked in a bath and clothes and make up do not point out a status or a social group. This nakedness lowers communication barriers and creates a lively atmosphere of communication among the people of all ranks and statuses.
The Japanese bathing is almost elevated to the art status, while the concepts of the Japanese and Western bathing cultures vary greatly. They are different in one major aspect. The Japanese do not wash themselves in a tub, whereas in the West it is a common practice. Thus, the Japanese have certain rules that each bather should follow.
The first rule is that Japanese baths are for soaking only; all washing is done outside a tub, commonly at faucet and shower arrangements, set up along a wall of the bathroom. The next rule is that you should allow no splashing-it is a bad manner to have anyone else wet with your water. Then, if you have been doing some hard, sweaty work during the day, you should wash thoroughly before getting into a tub.
The essential equipment for the Japanese bathing is a small bath towel. They are used for both: washing and drying yourself. Many bathhouses supply bathers with towels, while in the others it is necessary to buy them. Soap, and often shampoo and conditioner, is always provided. You should keep a towel out of the bath water; and when bathing, fold it and wear on the head.
The procedure in all Japanese baths is always the same. After you completely disrobe in a changing room and put your clothes in either a locker or a basket, you walk into the bath area. There you will find plastic basins, stools (they used to be made of wood) and faucets along the wall. Sit on a stool in front of the faucet and repeatedly fill your basin with water, splashing it all over you. If there is no hot water from the faucet, you can dip your plastic basin into the hot bath. You soap yourself completely and then wash away all traces of the soap. Only after you are absolutely clean, you are ready to get into the bath.
The Japanese bath is a popular attraction to foreigners, and as Japanese are fond of baths, many visitors become addicted to them. They find them relaxing and a delightful alternative to the common Western bathing.