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How to enjoy Japanese hot baths and home spas

Updated on July 15, 2011

Hot Spring in Japan

Why Japanese baths?

Looking for a relaxing and healthy way to end your day and relieve those aching bones and weary muscles? Why not soak in a bathtub tonight the Japanese way? Taking long, hot baths at natural hot springs in Japan is a science, an art, and close to a national obsession. Hot springs are popular with everyone from young to old because they are rich in natural minerals, which are said to be able to cure or alleviate various bodily ailments such as aches, poor circulation and beautify the skin. Most towns and cities all across Japan boast at least one hot spring - some basic with just one big bath; some fancily equipped with saunas, Jacuzzis and open-air baths.

If taking hot baths is a national obsession in Japan, celebrating the changing seasons is another. It is no surprise that the Japanese has incorporated the various types of Do-it-yourself hot baths to be enjoyed at home for each passing month of the year.


The Bath Calendar

January - Matsu Yu (Pine bath). Enjoy the earthy, forest-green pine bath in the first month of the year. Branches of pine trees are used to decorate Japanese homes during the New Year to welcome the gods. Thus, it is considered auspicious to take pine baths in January to start off the year.

February - Daikon Yu (Daikon radish bath). The thought of bathing in radish may not sound too appealing, but what it may lack in terms of fragrance, it makes up for in vitamins known to help combat colds.

March - Yomogi Yu (Mugwort bath). Mugworts are herbs that have been in use for a long time in Europe as medicine and as beer flavorings. The Japanese use them in many of their traditional sweets. This is another herbal bath that has the aromatherapeutic qualities in relieving stress and helping you have a restful sleep.

April - Sakura Yu (Cherry blossoms bath) - What can be more Japanese than cherry blossoms? Cherry blossoms are gorgeous, pale pink flowers that bloom for no more than a week or so sometime in April. Scatter some petals in the bath and enjoy.

May - Shobu Yu (Iris bath) - A fragrant purple bath that contains the pun on the word "shobu", which can also mean "game match" in Japanese and was therefore commonly used to celebrate the birth of baby boys back in the Edo era.  May 5th is Children's Day in Japan, but is actually a day to celebrate boys.

June - Dokudami Yu (Lizard's tail bath) - Not the real lizard's tail, but the plant that has a stem resembling the tail of a lizard and is considered a panacea in Japan.  

July - Momo Yu (Peach bath) - Float real peaches in the bath if you have a few to spare. The minerals in peaches have nourishing effects on the skin and also provide protection against UV rays and sunburns in the summer month of July.

August - Hakka Yu (Peppermint bath) - Peppermint is a common ingredient found in many shampoos and soaps. Peppermints contain menthol, which has a refreshing and cooling quality that is perfect for one of the hottest months of the year.

September - Kiku Yu (Chrysanthemum bath) - In Chinese mythology (which has carried over to Japan), odd numbers are "bright numbers", giving energy to life and are therefore considered auspicious with September 9th being (9/9) the most auspicious of all. September is also the season for chrysanthemums. These flowers are thought to bestow long life and ward off bad luck.

October - Shoga Yu (Ginger bath) - A common herb/spice known around the world for medicinal properties that can relieve all sorts of discomforts, a ginger bath will warm you up on chilly October nights.

November - Mikan Yu (Mandarin orange bath) - The secret here is in the peel. Rich in vitamin C and citric acid, which are widely used in beauty products and cosmetics, this bath works wonders for your skin.

December - Yuzu Yu (Citron bath) - The citron is a highly fragrant fruit commonly used to add zest in Japanese dishes and teas. Like other "fruit baths", float the citrons in the bathtub for more fragrance and for enjoyment.

How to do this at home

Most of the herbal baths above require that you use the leaves or the flowers of the plants or the peels of the fruits, boil or grate them, squeeze out the juice and mix it into the bathwater.  It is not overly complicated, but it is time-consuming and the herbs may not be readily available.  There is, of course, a much simpler way: buy the ready-made bath salts you see here, pour it into your bathtub, soak in it and enjoy.


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