Japanese people are well known as bath lovers. A Japanese style bathroom has a place for washing one’s body near the bathtub. We don’t wash our body in bathtubs as is done in the west, and we stay in them for relaxation and warming up our bodies. Warming up our bodies helps us sleep, and so we avoid cooling down our bodies after taking baths, except on very hot nights.
Hot springs are also loved. There are many hot springs in Japan, because the volcanic activity in Japan is so strong. Volcanoes give us many things, including some disasters. Some wild animals in Japan are also known to come into hot springs to warm themselves in winter.
When I was a little child, my family lived in a rented house, and my house had a very old type of bathtub called a “Goemon-buro”. It was a simple tub whose bottom was heated directly by fire. Water in it could only be changed from the top. The origin of the name is from the legendary thief Goemon Ishikawa who was caught and killed by being boiled in a big pot. My mother had some troubles with the bathtub, because very little children often fouled up the water unexpectedly. It was very hard to change the water in it. Fortunately, my grandparents’ house was very close to my house. So my family went to their house to take a bath almost every day. I once asked my mother why we didn’t use the bathtub in my house, and she answered “it’s broken”. Maybe she thought it was a bother to explain to me. In spring through the fall, we came back home and slept, but my parents let me stay there in winter to avoid me cooling down on the way back home.
My father built a house when I was an elementary student. The new house had a bathroom, of course. It also had an electric water heater which heated water up at night, because the price of electricity was cheaper then than in the daytime. But the water heater couldn’t supply enough hot water in winter, because we used too much in the kitchen. We had to heat the bath water by putting wood on a fire. My father got the scrap wood, and cut it into pieces with a chainsaw while I and my brother chopped other pieces with axes. Chopping the wood was fun work, but carrying the wood was very hard for us. Sometimes, we burned charcoal when we couldn’t get scrap wood. The bathroom had a door that led outside. It was convenient for us when we got dirty doing outside activities. When I was in junior high, I often went swimming after breakfast, took a shower, had lunch, and went back swimming. Coming into the bathroom from outside was very comfortable.
Now I live in a barrier-free apartment house, whose bathroom has some handles. I got hit-and-run a while ago, and have had some lingering problems with my left leg. It is easy for me to use my bathroom, but I sometimes have some problems for taking a bath in other places. When I went to the US, I stayed in hotels. But in many cases in the US, the shower head connected to the wall of the bathroom directly without a hose, making it difficult for me to use. Someone gave me the advice to ask for a shower chair. I think I will try it if I have another chance to go to the US.
After the big earthquake on March 11th, 2011 in eastern Japan, I couldn’t take a bath for about a week because of the long water stoppage. Finally, I couldn’t keep going without a bath anymore, so I went to a “Sentou” which is a public bathhouse in Japan. The Sentou near my house had a water well, so they could open after the electric power recovered. Fortunately, the disaster was in the cold season, so there were smaller sanitary problems than there would have been in the hot season.
The climate in Japan is so humid that we need to take a bath or shower more than people in other countries whose climates are dry. Of course, Japanese have a custom of taking baths for pleasure. But I think it also with the sanitary problems. If the climate were hotter like in Southeast Asia, taking a shower would be preferred over taking a bath in Japan, I think. Global warming could be prove my hypothesis, but I don’t want to see such a future.