Getting Clean in Japan
When you want to get clean after a long, crowded, sweaty day on the subway, you may retreat to your bathroom and jump into a deep Japanese bathtub and let the stress of the day drift away. Many westerners love a good soak, but like many things that are wonderfully different here in Japan, there is also a ‘Japanese’ way to bathe as well. This applies to at home, as well as for the etiquette in the big public baths, sentō, or in the onsens, which are like big public baths but they use natural hot spring water.
Since taking photos in sentōs and onsens is forbidden, I will use in-home photos for illustration. First you will have three things: a little stool to sit on, a bucket, and a big cup with a long handle. You can collect extra water and lather up with the bucket water, and use cup to rinse off. All sentōs and onsens will have their walls lined with little partitioned stalls with all of these amenities for you to fist clean with.
*Pro Tip* It’s always polite to tuck the little stool, and bucket, and cup back in under the faucet as to be ready for the next person.
You always clean up before entering the water as to ‘keep the water clean.’ In the older days the bath water would be shared, one bath of water per family per night. The eldest always was first to enter the water as well; imagine where in line you would have been growing up. In the public bathing areas, the water continually overflows out as to keep that water clean and ready for the next one.