For Japanese people, a bath—お風呂 o-furo—is a way to relax and soak away the stresses of the day, or to warm yourself when you are chilled on a cold day.
The purpose of the bath is not to wash yourself. In fact, it is important to be thoroughly clean before you get into the bath, because the bath water will be kept and reused. So you shower outside the bath.
The bathroom is a “wet room”, with a shower fitting and tap but no separate shower cubicle. The water drains away under the floor. Traditionally you wash yourself while seated on a low wooden stool, using a wooden bucket which you fill with hot water and pour over yourself. Nowadays, the little stool and bucket are often made of moulded plastic, as seen here.
The shower head can be placed in one of two brackets at different heights: one suitable for showering while seated on the little stool, and the other for washing standing up.
The bathtub itself is deeper than at home, allowing you to immerse yourself up to your neck in water two feet deep. There is no overflow runoff, so you can fill it right to the brim if you want.Traditional Japanese baths were made of wood, but in modern homes they are usually made of stainless steel or acrylic.
There is a gas-fired on-demand water heating system, controlled using this high-tech control panel:
From left to right, the buttons are for “automatic”, “reheat”, on/off and “call”. On the panel you can see the actual bath-water temperature, the current time and the temperature set point.
If you flip down the little door, some additional controls are revealed:
The bath has a “reheat” facility so that the water can be left in the bath overnight and recirculated back through the heater (and filter) for use the following day. The bathtub has a cover, presumably to keep the water free from dust, insects, etc.
When the bathwater has been used several times, the (still clean) water can be pumped to the washing machine for use in washing clothes.
Note on the word of the day:
In Japanese, the word お湯 o-yu means hot water. This word for hot water is separate from the ordinary word for water, 水 mizu. It would be incorrect Japanese to refer to hot water as atsui mizu, in much the same way as in English it would be wrong to say “solid water” instead of using the special word “ice”. This suggests that, in Japanese culture, hot water (for example, for tea or for a bath) is considered to be a different substance from water, just as ice is a different substance, although they are chemically identical.
The Japanese word お風呂 o-furo means bath, and may be a bath in a private home or a public bath (銭湯 sentou), which if it uses local naturally-heated mineral water is an 温泉 onsen, and if it is outdoors open to the sky is a 露天風呂 rotenburo.
One of my favourite memories of Japan is of sitting in a hot outdoor bath on a steep cedar-covered mountain slope, immersed up to my neck in hot water as snow fell gently on my head and shoulders. These guys seem to like it too: