Things Japanese/Bathing

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Bathing. Cleanliness is one of the few original items of Japanese civilisation. Almost all other Japanese institutions have their root in China, but not tubs. We read in the Japanese mythology that the god Izanagi, on returning from a visit to his dead wife in Hades, purified himself in the waters of a stream. Ceremonial purifications continue to form part of the Shintō ritual. But viewed generally, the cleanliness in which the Japanese excel the rest of mankind has nothing to do with godliness. They are clean for the personal satisfaction of being clean. Their hot baths for they almost all bathe in very hot water of about 110 Fahrenheit also help to keep them warm in winter. For though moderately hot water gives a chilly reaction, this is not the case when the water is extremely hot, neither is there then any fear of catching cold. There arc over eleven hundred public baths in the city of Tōkyō, in which it is calculated that five hundred thousand persons bathe daily, the usual charge being 2½ sen (under three farthings of English money) for adults, 2 sen for children, and 1½ sen for infants in arms. In addition to this, every respectable private house has its own bath-room. Other cities and even villages are similarly provided. Generally, but not always, a barrier separates the sexes from each other. Where there are neither bathing establishments nor private bath-rooms, the people take their tubs out-of-doors, unless indeed a policeman, charged with carrying out the modern regulations, happen to be prowling about the neighbourhood; for cleanliness is more esteemed by the Japanese than our artificial Western prudery. As the editor of the Japan Mail has well said, the nude is seen in Japan, but is not looked at.

Some Europeans have tried to pick holes in the Japanese system, saying that the bathers put on their dirty clothes when they have dried themselves. True, the Japanese of the old school have nothing so perfect as our system of daily renovated linen. But as the bodies even of the men of the lowest class are constantly washed and scrubbed, it is hardly to be supposed that their garments, though perhaps dusty outside, can be very dirty within. A Japanese crowd is the sweetest in the world. The charm of the Japanese system of hot bathing is proved by the fact that almost all the foreigners resident in the country adopt it. There seems, too, to be something in the climate which renders hot baths healthier than cold. By persisting in the use of cold water one man gets rheumatism, a second gets fever, a third a never-ending continuance of colds and coughs. So nearly all end by coming round to the Japanese plan, the chief foreign contribution to its improvement being the use of a separate bath by each person. In a Japanese family the same bath does for all the members; and as man is the nobler sex, the gentlemen usually take it first, in the order of their age or dignity, the ladies afterwards, and then the younger children, the servants enjoying it last at a late hour of the evening, if they be not sent to a public bath-house instead. It must be understood that each bather first cleans himself outside the bath by ladling water over his body. Nowadays soap, too, is much used. The original national cleanser was the bran bag (nuka-bukuro), made by sewing a handful of bran into a small piece of linen, which furnishes a deliciously soft washing material. Thus each one enters the bath already clean, to enjoy the luxury of a good boiling.

The national passion for bathing leads all classes to make extensive use of the hot mineral springs in which their volcano-studded land abounds. Sometimes they carry their enjoyment of this simple luxury to an almost incredible extreme. At Kawarayu, a tiny spa not far from Ikao in the province of Jōshū—one of those places, of which there are many in Japan, which look as if they were at the very end of the world, so steep are the mountains shutting them in on every side the bathers stay in the water for a month on end, with a stone on their lap to prevent them from floating in their sleep. When we were there some years ago, the care-taker of the establishment, a hale old man of eighty, used to stay in the bath during the entire winter. To be sure, the water is, in this particular case, one or two degrees below blood-heat. Thus alone is so strange a life rendered possible. In another case, some of the inhabitants of a certain village famed for its hot springs excused themselves to the present writer for their dirtiness during the busy summer months: "For," said they, "we have only time to bathe twice a day." "How often, then, do you bathe in winter?" "Oh! about four or five times daily. The children get into the bath whenever they feel cold."

Sea-bathing was not formerly much practised; but since 1885 the upper classes have taken to it, in imitation of European usage, and the coast is now dotted with bathing establishments under medical supervision. Ōiso, Ushibuse, Kamakura, and Dzushi are the favourite sea-side places of the gentry of Tōkyō.