The Japanese baths

Sentō 銭湯 or Onsen 温泉 ?

By arnaud In Stopovers

All across Japan, there are over 3,000 thermal springs. It is therefore not surprising that the Japanese love to bathe. For them, the properties of these baths are sometimes medical and close to our thalassotherapy, but baths are mostly a social space for exchange.
On several of your cruise’s stops, we suggest that you go into the onsens. There is a liste des bonnes pratiques (list of good practices) in Japanese baths for use by foreigners because it is important, for example, to be clean before bathing. But your hostess will be happy to guide you: you have to get fully naked, and women and men are separated, sometimes the bathing space can be for families. Be aware that tattoos are very poorly regarded in Japan and being tattooed might forbid you to access to the baths.
In ancient times, it was customary to, once a week, organize in the middle of the public square a giant heated bath. A sort of big wooden tank was installed and all the villagers, all naked, were splasing in it.
But after a few centuries, specialized establishmeents appeared.
They were divided into two categories:
The natural baths: the onsens
The artificially heated baths: the sentôs
The onsens (温泉, litt. “heated spring”) are Japanese thermal baths. They are heated baths, generally common, indoor or outdoor, whose water comes comes from volcanic springs, sometimes known for their therapeutic properties. Nudity is a must. The term designates both the spring and the baths, but also the thermal station built around the baths. They are very popular and aboundant given the vulcanic origin of the island.
The sentōs (銭湯) are a kind of Japanese public bath where you have to pay. Traditionnally, these baths are functional, constituted of a large area with a wall separating males and females, where each side is featuring rows of simple faucets and a large basin where the clients bathe together after having cleaned themselves.
Since the second half of the twentieth century, these places have lost popularity after the increase in western-style bathrooms in Japanese homes. However, some Japanese believe that it is important, socially speaking, to go to public baths, according to a theory that physical intimacy allows emotional intimacy. For others, going to a sentō is a necessity because they live in small houses without private baths, or because they prefer to wash in spacious places or sometimes take advantage of saunas and bubble baths found now in recent or renovated sentō.