I first would like to share with you a beautiful book written by Colette Gouvion, Les bains dans le monde (Baths in the world), Aubanel.
This book is a journey in time and space to discover the culture of bathing and everything related to it around the world.
Before I came to Japan I experienced many kinds of bathing or water-related wellness experiences. Girls only hammams in Morocco , thalassotherapy and thermal sources in beautiful French accomodations combining gastronomy, wellness and health, outdoor jacuzzis in Canada to warm up when it was freezing outside and everything covered with pristine snow.
Benefits on the body and soul
In 2016, I shared my expertise and time to help create the ISPA Spa offering Encyclopedia. I submitted the encyclopaedia entries for Thalassotherapy and Hammam. Thanks to this research I learnt a lot on the benefits of bathing: relaxing, anti-inflammatory, relieving rheumatism, improving circulation, calming nervous system, relieving various skin conditions from psoriasis to acne and many more depending on the water composition.
But it’s only those last years in Japan that bathing started to become crucial for me. I discovered public bathing (sento), hot springs (onsen) and baths (furo) in the spas where I worked.
It’s in Matsumoto that it all started. I had to use the communal baths for one week because I had no choice. My daughter was in hospital in emergency care. Luckily I could stay overnight with her but I had no access to the bathroom. No need to say that I went through hard times. My Japanese was very limited at that time ( not to say that it’s much better now!) but the few words I was able to pronounce were enough to share my experience with very attent and welcoming Japanese ladies and to find support in their eyes. I could share my pain, get rid of my stress and recharge in this very hot and calming water. For the first time in Japan I didn’t feel like a stranger. I realised that bathing is not only cleaning your body but it’s also cleaning your soul. The entrance of sento often looks like the entrance of a temple. This visit has something spiritual and could be considered as a kind of meditation.
After the second world war, sento became less and less popular because of the arrival of bathroom in houses. However a few Japanese people still believe that it’s key to promote sento as it has a very important social aspect. There is even a French lady, Stéphanie Crohin, who I had the chance to meet who is an official ambassador of sento. Her role is to promote sento in Japan and abroad. The film Her love boils hot water by Ryota Nakano gives also some clarification on how difficult it is to run a family bathhouse which is also why there are less and less.
Later I discovered the hot springs (onsen) in Kusatsu and more remote ones in the Japanese Alps with my family. It’s nothing compared to the 20 000 hot springs available in Japan. But I will never forget it and especially the outside baths, rotenburo. Can you imagine bathing in a hot bath in the middle of the forest and contemplating the autumn foliage? or on the Hokkaido island in the winter with a view of the Mount Yotei? It’s just breath-taking! Those exceptional moments shared with my family were well deserved pauses in our lives. It created stronger bounds and we could each time recharge. Sometimes we would sleep in a Ryokan, traditional Inn next to an onsen and we could enjoy the Japanese hospitality, omotenashi.
Bathing is an amazing wellness experience but when praticed in Japan you need to know a few rules. You could read How to take a Japanese bath from Suzuki Ikko (IBC) and Japanese bath from Bruce Smith and Yoshiko Yamamoto (Gibbs Smith).
The Global Wellness Institute has released the top five trends in hot springs as identified by the GWI’s hot spring initiative and it’s spot on with what has been described earlier. Indeed GWI explains that hot springs fit with the wellness trends of connecting with the community, and the need of maximising the connection with nature and environment.
Pro-active sefcare approach and the role of the spa
Most of the bathing benefits still need to be promoted among the spa-goers and the spas have a big role to play. Many actions could be taken by the spas to promote bathing.
- Partnerships: spas could look for partnerships with spas close to a hot spring or thalassotherapy. We could even imagine the urban spa organising the wellness trip for its clients to create a sense of belonging to a wellness community.
- Events: spa could organise conferences by inviting an expert on the subject and raise awareness.
- Seasonal and cultural baths: wouldn’t it be a great idea to introduce seasonal baths? Here, in Japan, to celebrate the winter solstice it’s very common to put yuzu (Japanese lemons) in baths. On May 5th, the Children’s day, which is also the arrival of spring, Japanese put boiled roots and leaves of the iris in bath (shobu-yu). This is said to avoid illness and misfortune. I would imagine that this change in bathing offering would attract spa-goers and would encourage them to come back for every season to experience a new ambiance. You can even organise a theme of the month, like a Japanese month and offer a onsen bath in adding onsen salts (available on line) . A great opportunity to introduce new products coming from Japan, being cosmetics or others.
- Selfcare products offer: stimulating spa-goers to take baths at home by suggesting some ideas how to create a spa at home and by introducing products for the bath and after the bath. I would like to recommend products from the brand Amayori inspired by the Japanese bathing ritual experience.
At last I would like to end by suggesting to finish your bathing ritual with a lovely tea and the reading of Dans les eaux profondes, le bain japonais d’Akira Mizubayashi.
And if you come short of ideas or if you need some help to organise an event or to help you refresh your menu around bathing, don’t hesitate to contact GlobalSpaTouch.
Wishing you a good bath and a good reading!