I want to know the history of ofuro and why Japanese are so fond of it.

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Prof. Naoyuki Ogawa

Updated on Aug 03 2015

Q.There are ofuro or furo (baths) and onsen (hot springs) all over Japan with many people using them. I want to know the history of ofuro and why Japanese are so fond of it.

A.Japanese people love bathing in various ways

 Japanese society practices a variety of centuries-old bathing patterns. Furo (風呂)originally meant nekki-yoku (熱気浴: hot-air bathing) and joki-yoku (蒸気浴: steam or vapor bathing), just like sauna bathing. Those traditional bathing methods required muro (ムロ: cavern) where people made a fire to fill the space with hot air, letting people sweat. Even today, such bathing facilities, called ishi-buro (石風呂: stone baths), exist in western Japan ― from the Seto Inland Sea coastal areas to northern Kyushu. In the Kinki region, people used to enjoy joki-yoku in hothouses full of steam. Yu (湯: hot water) is the key word for knowing more about furo and onsen (温泉). The word yu is used to refer to on’yu (温湯: hot or warm water) in which people immerse their bodies in a warm bath ; the facility housing such a bath is called yudono (湯殿: bathroom or bathhouse); and a common hot-water bathhouse shared by people for a fee is known as yuya (湯屋). In Japan, yu is also used to refer to hot springs like “Arima no yu (有馬の湯)” in Arima, Kobe, and “Iyo no yu (伊予の湯)” now known as Dogo onsen hot spa resort in Matsuyama, both of which date back to the seventh century. Literature from the latter half of the Heian period (794-1185) has references to onsen and yu shrines. Furo and onsen facilities were shared by people until the Edo period (1603-1867) when individual households began having private baths, as we do today. Japan’s climate ― hot and humid in summer and cold in winter ― and the abundance of hot springs across the volcanic archipelago are the secrets behind the existence of various bathing patterns across the country and Japan’s love affair with hot-water bathing.



published in The Japan News on 27/7/2015


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