9 Amazing Facts About Saunas in Japan

If you have visited 日本 (Nihon or Nippon) then you are very likely already familiar with the country’s culture around hot baths. In Japan, there are many different kinds of saunas and hot springs one can indulge in to cater to personal preferences and needs. In order to fully immerse yourself into Japanese culture, visiting at least one of these is an absolute must. There are reportedly over 6,000 saunas scattered across the island nation, so there is practically no excuse to not visit one of them for yourself. Here are several interesting facts about saunas and similar activities and their benefits you can experience on your next vacation to the land of the rising sun.

1. The oldest onsen is about 3,000 years old

Dating back to even before the birth of Christ, Dogo Onsen is a hot spring located in Matsuyama, Ehime on the island of Shikoku. This destination is popular with international tourists for a good reason, as not only was it said to be the spa of ancient Japanese deities of many generations ago, but it is also believed to have been a major inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s critically acclaimed masterpiece Spirited Away, released by Studio Ghibli in 2001. 

2. About 8% of people living in Japan use a sauna on a regular basis

That consists of about 8% of the Japanese population, and they are definitely increasing in popularity. Once seen as only for older people, many younger Japanese people now take advantage of the sauna and all it has to offer.

3. The activity has become increasingly popular with Japanese women

Going to the sauna was formerly seen as an activity for men, but in more recent times, it has become more acceptable and even common for women to benefit from and appreciate them. 

4. There is even a manga about saunas

For those who don’t know, manga (漫画 pronounced mahn-gah) are Japanese comic books. It is titled “Sadou,” or “the way of the sauna.” It was even developed into a television series, and as of writing, currently has two seasons. 

5. You can go to a Finnish-style sauna in Japan

Metsä Village is a leisure park inspired by Finnish culture in Hanno City, Saitama. It’s no surprise that the Japanese would want to experience a Finnish-style sauna in their own country since the Finns are natural masters in the art. However, Unlike in Finland, home saunas are uncommon in Japan.

6. Be careful if you have a lot of tattoos before going to a Japanese sauna

We don’t mean any hard feelings to our tattoo enthusiasts, as everyone deserves to enjoy the benefits of saunas and sentos, but tattoos are not very common in Japan, and have been associated with the infamous yakuza (ヤクザ, yah-koo-za), or people who commit organized crime, though some have said that attitudes towards them are changing.

7. The Japanese often like to treat themselves to a beverage after visiting the sauna

People in Japan will choose from various beverages after they are finished in the sauna, interestingly, many of them choose milk. Another popular choice is iced coffee. It is also not unheard of to have a little snack after a trip to the sauna.

8. Sauna lovers in Japan are known as “saunners.”

And who could blame them? Are you one of them?

9. Another popular tradition is the sento

Sento (銭湯, pronounced sehn-toh) is a public bathhouse. Like many traditional Japanese establishments, you will have to take off your shoes before you enter. There are separate rooms for each gender, as mixed sentos are viewed as socially unacceptable, and people are naked instead the room. If you are from the Western world having no clothes on in front of strangers can be seen as a particularly bizarre concept because nudity is seen as very personal and sexual by default in this part of the world, but in Japan, this is not necessarily the case. In the Japanese language, there is a phrase known as hadaka no tsukiai (裸の付き合い, hah-dah-kah noh tsoo-kee-ai), which means “naked communication or relationships.”

Final Words

Whether you prefer a Finnish sauna or a Japanese-style onsen or sento, you should definitely check out all that the world of the sauna has to offer. It can be a nice treat to experience something new to expand your horizons and your own appreciation of saunas.