For some reason I’ve been thinking abut bathtubs quite a bit recently. I have no idea why (honestly, I have no idea how my brain does these things) but let’s see where it goes.

Primarily I’ve been thinking about how impractical American bathtubs are – they are cold, uncomfortable, and slippery. Also they look like coffins with a drain at one end. A standard bathtub really doesn’t seem to be designed for a person’s comfort, no matter what those bubble bath commercials tell you.

Calgon, take me away!

And then there’s the way we bathe – fill the tub, get in, wash, and then sit in a soup of your own filth and call it relaxing. Yuck.

I’m something of a history buff; not just Western history but that of the world as well. I am particularly entranced by Japan’s culture and history, as it is so very different from my own. One thing that fascinates me is the Japanese approach to bathing. They have a “wash then bathe” philosophy that I just love. It reminds me oddly of the ancient Romans and their public baths.

The Japanese scrub themselves clean and then climb into a large wooden tub (the ofuro) where they can sit in water up to their shoulders or neck to soak.

A traditional ofuro.

A wooden cover might be placed over the water to keep the heat in. The entire family can use the same tub of water, which is why you have to wash before entering.

Modern Japanese bathing rooms (the toilet is usually located in a separate room and most have a sink built into the tank!) are completely tiled with a drain in the floor, a shower nozzle with a long hose, and a good deep tub to bathe in after you wash. Some of the fancier tubs have heating controls similar to what you would find in American hot tubs (which I feel are inferior to the ofuro.)

A modern Japanese bathing room. The reason everything looks low to the ground is because traditionally you sit on a low stool or crouch to wash yourself.

How do I, someone who has never been out of the country, know so much about strange foreign bathing habits? A combination of curiosity, research, and the Internet. It seems that gaijin love to post videos of their tiny apartments on youTube and the bathing rooms are often covered in great detail. Most are in the “Holy shit, that’s a tiny apartment!” category, it is a testament to how important bathing is to the Japanese that they are willing to devote an entire room specifically to it even in a microscopic space. This is a culture where individual bedrooms were traditionally considered a “luxury” – yet bathing gets its own special room.

A modern  example of an ofuro, complete with cover.

In my list of “Things I want if I ever win the lottery” is my own ofuro and Japanese-style bathing room. It just seems so much more practical than the way we Americans do it.