In the west, we think of a bathroom as an all-in-one room where you have your toilet, bathtub, and area to remove your clothes before bathing. In Japan, there is a completely different setup altogether. First, the toilet is usually in a different area and most commonly a closet-like room.
The toilet will often be an advanced washlet type even in older homes. Having many functions like bidet features, heated seats, and air drying ability, not to mention self-cleaning. Washlet is the common term given to these toilets.
So what is the layout in a Japanese home’s bath?
In total a typical Japanese home, the bathroom consists of two rooms: an entry room with a sink where you remove clothing and a secondary room with a shower outside of the tub area. The shower room is often called a wet room as the entire room has a floor drain.
The shower is outside of the tub area and allows one to take a shower before getting into the tub. This is sometimes for hygienic reasons. In the west, many people are surprised to know that bathwater itself isn’t drained and a new bath started for each person.
In addition to the tubs retaining the bathwater, the bathtubs will have a roll-out mat to cover the water warm for the next user or to keep it clean upon its next use.
As a general rule, no shampoo or soap should mix with the tub water so it’s always prudent to thoroughly wash and rinse in the shower area before entering the tub.
Bathtub water is not drained and the water will be reused for the next person. The Tubs have the ability to reheat the water without adding more water. Often the controls to reheat the water will be located outside of the wet room inside the sink room just outside of the shower and tub room.
The tubs in Japan are used as soaking tubs for relaxation similar to what outdoor spas might be used for in the west. The tubs are often much deeper than bathtubs in America and allow one to be submerged nearly to the neck area. However, bathtubs in Japan are not sized the same as in the west.
On average the dimensions of a Japanese soaking tub vary depending on the type, but they are typically nearly three feet deep to permit one to fully submerge while sitting. The tubs, which are normally square or rectangular, have a length of no more than five feet, but most are smaller.
Bathing or Soaking in Japan happens more commonly after work or before going to bed.
The Japanese are recognized for their timeliness, therefore to save time getting ready in the morning, they choose to unwind and bath themselves the night before. However unique or not, the Japanese obviously know how to relax more fully, and also being part of their culture is onsen (hot spring bathhouses).
Japanese society demands conformity and hard work and especially at their job, hence finding a way to lower stress is a natural fit in Japan.
In Japanese culture, bathing is more about revitalizing your body and mind than it is about cleaning your body. As a result, many Japanese people enjoy soaking in a deep tub on a routine basis to help remove the stress of a long day at work and to rejuvenate from overwork.
In total modern Japanese baths have hi-tech controls that allow the user to select exact temperature control and even a timer that automatically will start warming the bathwater at a preset time.
In addition to the deep-soak tubs next to them are a shower that is much closer to the floor, perhaps half the height of a western shower. The reason being is that the person taking the shower will sit on a small stool and shower while seated.
The stool might also be accompanied by a small bucket for dowsing yourself in the water from the shower as well as a long handle scrub brush.
This layout is common for the average Japanese home, but these configurations may totally change in a small apartment. The reason being that space is at a premium in the apartments and a toilet sink and bath may be found in the same room.
There is an inclination in Japanese society to divide places into clean and dirty, and exposure between these rooms is minimized. The inside of a home, for example, is regarded as clean, a toilet area may be considered less clean than the shower area. Therefore the toilet is often separated from the sink, shower, and tub area reserved for bathing.
A washlet closet is often about the size of a western-sized closet and sometimes the sink itself is merged with the toilet. When the toilet is flushed and starts to refill the tank a small sink above the tank allows you to wash your hands with clean water.
Another uncommon practice from western standards is that children commonly bathe with their parents even beyond early childhood. In Japan, it’s considered perfectly normal practice. In some families bathing together still takes place among parents and children even into adolescents.
Bathing in Japan is seen as a time to relax and decompress from the day’s stresses. In the west, we have forgotten how to relax and a bath is considered a luxury and a quick shower is the norm. Even though Japan’s work culture is a very high-stress environment the Japanese still make time to relax and unwind with a hot bath almost every day.
After returning from my last trip to Tokyo, one of the things I missed the most was the bathroom in our rented house. The warm seat on a cold spring morning and returning in the evening to a pre-warmed bath were two of the highlights of each day…who would have imagined.
A beautifully rendered CGI Japanese onsen bath. (check it out)