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Japanese Soaking Tubs – The Art Of Japanese Bathing

The art and ritual of bathing varies widely the world over. In Japan especially, water is considered to be spiritually as well as physically cleansing – a belief which led to the development of a very different attitude towards bathing, different bathing rituals, and even different bath fixtures. The Japanese bathroom is very different from those you’d find in the US, but many traditionally Japanese fixtures – especially the Japanese soaking tub (the furo or ofuro) – are beginning to become popular in the US as well.

Traditional Wooden Japanese Soaking Tub
Traditional Wooden Japanese Soaking Tub

In the United States, the bathtub and shower are more or less considered two versions of the same thing – both are made for washing and, to a lesser extent, for relaxing. In Japanese culture, bathing is a two step process. First, bathers sit on a small stool on a water proof floor with a drain in the center. They scoop water from the tub onto their bodies and wash their hair and skin thoroughly with soap, then rinse with another scoop of water. Then and only then – after washing and rinsing – do they get into the furo or ofuro, a deep, narrow tub filled with very hot water – in modern terms, something like a Round Acrylic tub from Barclay.

Browse Japanese Soaking Tubs:

Resin Modern Round Japanese Soaking Tub From Barclay
Resin Modern Round Japanese Soaking Tub From Barclay

The Japanese soaking tub isn’t made for washing, it’s for raising the body temperature (a la a sauna or steam room), relaxing the muscles, and in a more spiritual sense, cleansing the mind or soul. Historically, this has practical roots as well – many families would use the same bath water in order of seniority or bathe together (and in many parts of Japan, still do). Washing and rinsing before entering the communal bath allowed more people to enjoy clean, hot water without wasting water or having to reheat it. While you might not want to share a tub with your whole family, many models like this Resin Tub is just the right size for a bath for two.

Copper Japanese Soaking Tub From Premier Copper Products
Copper Japanese Soaking Tub From Premier Copper Products

Traditionally, Japanese soaking tubs (the original hinoki furo) were made of wood, typically at least 25 inches deep, and shorter than the average American tub. Most Japanese soaking tubs have seats inside them (as you can see on this Copper Tub from Premier Copper Products), allowing bathers to submerge all the way up to their shoulders without either laying flat or having to sit with their knees to their chest. Many (but not all) are round, and traditionally come with a lid to lay over the top when the tub isn’t in use to help retain the heat. As well, authentic Japanese soaking tubs don’t have a Western-style overflow, and are actually allowed to spill over the top.

No Overflow Japanese Soaking Tub From Barclay
No Overflow Japanese Soaking Tub From Barclay

This is largely because the Japanese bathroom is much, much smaller than an American one – more like a luxury shower stall than a full sized bathroom. All the fixtures in a Japanese bathroom are water tight – the shower is left open to the tub, and all washing is done while sitting on a stool in the center of the floor, where the water flows to a central drain. This creates a steamy, wet environment that you’d expect from a steam shower that fills the entire bathroom without the threat of damaging your walls, ceiling, or floor. If you opt for a No-Overflow Japanese soaking tub like this one, be sure you have a floor (and drain!) that can handle the excess water.

Acrylic Round Japanese Soaking Tub From Barclay
Acrylic Round Japanese Soaking Tub From Barclay

But if you like your big bathroom, why would you want a Japanese soaking tub? There are a couple reasons, not the least that they offer a slightly exotic, slightly unusual alternative to an average freestanding tub that’ll give your bathroom a little more personality. Depending on the tub, you’ll also need less water to get better soaking coverage than a traditional European style tub, and it offers a nice, intimate alternative for couples that don’t want to sit end-to-end like you would in a double sized clawfoot tub. Be sure to pay attention to the capacity of the tub you’re choosing, though, is it can be very difficult to eyeball, and a tub with a very high capacity, like this 148 gallon Acrylic Tub only weighs 140 pounds empty, but jumps up to a whopping 1,394 pounds when filled, which may mean your floor needs extra reinforcement.

Providence Copper Japanese Soaking Tub From Sierra Copper
Providence Copper Japanese Soaking Tub From Sierra Copper

And it isn’t just Japanese soaking tubs you can include in your new bathroom design. While the idea of scrubbing down while sitting on a small stool in your shower might not appeal to you, the health benefits of taking a very hot bath to ease tired muscles, relax your joints, and clear your head isn’t a bad thing to learn from, either! A gorgeous copper Japanese soaking tub like this Providence tub from Sierra Copper is an excellent choice if you want a tub that retains its heat well, so you can soak in hotter water, longer. Would you ever consider installing a Japanese soaking tub in your bathroom? Better yet, would you consider building a water-tight, Japanese style bathroom? Let me know in the comments!