Ancient Japanese Bathing Rituals: The Importance of the Onsen

To the Japanese, bathing is not simply about getting clean. Instead, it is seen as a way to purify the mind and it remains an essential part of Japanese culture. The importance of bathing dates back to the 6th century with the introduction of Buddhist purification rituals and Japanese bathing practices are closely connected with the hot springs, or onsen, in the region.

How did onsen appear?

Japan is a volcanically active country and this has resulted in thousands of natural hot springs. There are many different types of onsen across Japan, with outdoor or indoor and public or privately owned springs being commonplace. In fact there are over 3,000 onsen across Japan. The warm onsen water contains up to 19 minerals, including sulphur, iron, hydrogen and sodium. These minerals offer healing properties and are a popular destination for tourists. To be certified as an onsen, the water must be at least 24 degrees Celsius and contain certain levels of minerals. 

The history of Japanese bathing culture

Bathing rituals in Japan date back to the 6th century as the Buddhists taught that bathing was an important act of devotion. The increasing popularity of bathing led to the development of sento, or public bath houses, by the end of the Heian period in the 12th century. However, bathing on the onsen was still not widespread. By the 17th century, public bathing became part of daily life for everyone with the elite being able to enjoy their own baths in their home. Legend has it that the samurai used the onsen to heal their battle wounds. The Edo period (17th – 19th century) also allowed mixed bathing. In the Showa period from 1926, baths within the home become more popular and public bathhouses were less frequently used. However, the tradition of bathing continued and it remains an important part of modern Japanese culture. 

Onsen etiquette

If you’re lucky enough to visit Japan, you can choose from many private onsen which are usually attached to hotels. However, you may also want to try out the public onsen for a more traditional experience. The public onsen are generally separated according to gender and you’ll generally be required to be nude – there are some bathhouses which will allow bathers but it’s best to check ahead of time. Before you enter the water, you need to wash your entire body and there will be a separate area to allow this. You’ll be provided with a towel to help you clean your body. Once you’re clean, you can now relax and enjoy the warmth of the water. Remember to make sure that your wash cloth, no matter how clean it is, doesn’t come into contact with the onsen water.

At Luxury Bath Co. we have created a full range of luxury Japanese bath products:

  • Japanese Shampoo infused with sandalwood essential oil
  • Japanese Conditioner with mandarine and jasmine essential oils
  • Japanese Bath Salt with jasmine flowers, green tea and mandarine pieces
  • Japanese Body wash and body lotion to smooth your skin and created that feeling of Japanese onsen