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For a moment I was scared that Remy would want to remodel our bathroom again, he liked Japanese bathrooms so much. Luckily, he set my mind at rest, saying we might consider having a Japanese bathroom in our next house, not in this one. I’m glad we’re not planning to move just yet. Not that I have anything against Japanese bathrooms, certainly not, but, for the uninitiated, it’s taken us nearly eleven months to build our new bathroom.
But anyway… let’s start at the entrance to a Japanese house: the hall. When you come through the front door, you first take your shoes off and change into slippers. It’s forbidden to enter a house with your shoes on, so there’s room in the hall to leave your shoes.
The rest of the hall is raised and has a wooden floor, like the (open) kitchen and some of the other rooms. Then there still are the traditional rooms with tatami-mats (mats of rice-straw), separated by sliding doors. Before going into one of those rooms, you take off your slippers and go further in your (clean) socks. These rooms are used as sitting-rooms and/or bedrooms.
As the average Japanese house is small, much smaller than a western one, some rooms are used for several things. The room with the tatami-mats, for instance, is a sitting-room during the day and a bedroom at night. There are no chairs; the Japanese are used to sitting on their heels or their knees at a low table (Remy and I are not so good at this and are afraid of getting a repetitive strain injury if we stay here too long). In the evening, everything is pushed to one side and a futon mattress and bedclothes are taken out of a cupboard to put on the floor.
The toilet can be a western one or a squat lavatory. A western toilet often has a heated seat and an electronic panel with buttons for: bum-showers (2 kinds), for which you can regulate the force of the spray, flushing noises to camouflage your own noises, and one for flushing itself. I once emerged blushing and with a very wet back; I didn’t quite know how the bum-shower worked. And the bum-drier didn’t reach far enough...
Before you go into the toilet, you take off your slippers and put on special toilet slippers. I’m dreading the moment when I forget to take them off again...
And now to the bathroom. First there is a sort of porch with the washbasin and washing machine. Here, you undress and then go into the wet part. You sit on a stool and get wet by a spray or by pouring a basin of water over your head. Then you wash thoroughly and rinse. Only when you are completely clean and all the soap is washed away do you get into the (boiling) hot bath.
A Japanese bath is not just a means of cleaning yourself – that happens before you get into it - but a means to relax. The compact and deep bath is filled with very hot water. We have gradually found out how to do it: get in quickly and sit down immediately. Don’t move – that hurts. After a bit you get used to it and before you realise, it becomes a pleasure and you don’t really want to get out again. When you do, it’s best to pour cold water over yourself, otherwise you start to sweat terribly. I have also noticed once or twice that the safety lock on a tap, fixed at 38 degrees in Holland, only clicks off at 50 in Japan! If we come back after the holiday as red as lobsters, that won’t be sunburn but the result of a Japanese bath.
This was an average Japanese house in a nutshell. For the time being, I’m well satisfied with the bathroom we have built!
The above description of a bathroom is also valid in public baths (onsen). In Japan, people are not (or less) ashamed of nakedness and baths are communal (separate male and female baths). In such cases, the ‘porch’ has shelves with baskets for your clothes, the wet part has room for several stools and the bath is very large.
Onsen (public baths):