Before I came to Japan, I was completely on the side of people who took a shower in the morning rather than in the evening. After a few months of living here, I’m not so sure.
Japanese people have baths at night due to historical influences, lack of time, and to wash away the grime from work, and to relax. While everyone is different, these seem to be the main themes across Japanese bathing culture in the home.
Let’s take a look at each of those reasons in a little more detail. While they all seem understandable, I want to be convinced my love for showering in the morning is unwarranted!
Quick Vocab Lesson:
Bath – Ofuro お風呂
Shower – Shawā シャワー
How is Taking a Bath Different in Japan?
It wouldn’t surprise me if the idea of taking a bath, or shower culture in Japan confuses you. Loads of buttons, a bucket, a stool, more buttons, why isn’t it simple!?
That’s exactly the same way I felt when I came to Japan, but now it feels like second nature. Taking a bath in Japan is different from the other parts of the world, so it’s worth knowing a few things. Here’s a list of what I do before I get in the bath in the evening:
- Use the showing to wash myself from head to toe and then rinse off. Sometimes people use the small bucket, but I just use the shower. Unfortunately, as I’m 6ft tall, the shower head normally just comes up to my shoulders. Great! There’s a stool in most bathrooms where you can sit to shower yourself, but I prefer to stand.
- Once I’ve made sure I’m 100% clean, I’ll roll the screen on the bath top back so I can get into the bath. It’s usually placed on top of the bath to make sure the water stays hot for the next person. More on that in a bit!
- Time to relax. As we’ll come to understand in a minute, the majority of Japanese bathe in the evening rather than the morning. I spend about 20 minutes soaking in the bath and then get out.
- Once I’ve had enough, I get out of the 41-degree water and use a net to make sure there is no hair left. I always make sure to do this properly so the next person has a clean soak.
- Finally, I roll the top of the bath back over in case someone else wants to use it, and use some of my favorite Japanese skincare products.
Compare that to my routine of having a bath in England which was me running the bath, getting in it, washing, and then letting the water out. Come to think of it, having a bath in Japan is way cleaner than back home!
Why Do Japanese People Bathe in the Evening?
As I said at the start of this article, I used to shower in the morning instead of the evening. I enjoyed it as a way to start my day, wake me up, and prepare my mind for whatever tasks were ahead of me. While part of me would like to go back to that, I couldn’t help but try to understand the cultural reasons behind why Japanese people have their baths in the evening rather than the morning. Here are a few reasons that may contribute to why Japanese people have baths at night.
1. Historically Ingrained
As you can probably realize, the physical act of making up a bath (heating the water, gathering the huge pots, starting the fire) took a flipping long time. Long enough at least for an entire family not to bother doing it in the morning.
Plus, imagine taking all the time to do that, and then going to work during the day, and coming back home filthy. It doesn’t make sense and really isn’t a great use of time. By the time Japanese people had access to bathhouses and quicker ways to make baths, it was already ingrained into society as the thing to do.
Does this have a lasting impact on the thoughts and feelings of people in modern-day Japan? I can’t say for sure, but where I live, people seem like there’s only one time of day to bathe.
2. Lack of Time
We already know Japanese people work exceptionally hard, and sometimes long hours. At present, around 1 in 10 people work second jobs, and that doesn’t show signs of slowing down. So with people often starting early and ending late, when would they choose to have a bath?
You may think before or after are both acceptable choices, but when you realize how punctual Japanese people are (and need to be), the choice becomes clear. Being on time is incredibly important in Japanese society, so much so that spending time having a bath in the morning is likely not going to be an option.
If you’ve ever got on a train in Japan, you know how busy they can get and how important it is to leave with plenty of time to spare. If you’ve ever got on the train at rush hour, you’ve witnessed it first hand!
I wouldn’t suggest this is one of the main reasons why Japanese people have baths in the evening, but it is certainly a reason for when they don’t have them in the morning.
3. Clean away the Dirt and Sweat
One of the most well-recognized reasons why Japanese people have a bath during the evening is to clean themselves after a hard day’s work. I definitely agree that it’s great to get into bed nice and clean, but at the same time, I don’t feel that refreshed if I don’t have a shower (or bath) in the morning.
As I briefly mentioned before, people in Japan often share the same bathwater if it’s a family house. That doesn’t mean everyone jumps in the bath as soon as they get back from work, but it does mean that many people might use the same water.
Before you cringe in disgust, we have a shower beforehand to wash the dirt off. So technically, it’s the shower before the bath that cleans you, and the bath afterward that does what we’re about to talk about.
4. Mentally & Physically Recharge
There’s nothing better than winding down after a hard day and relaxing in the bath. While I loved having a shower in the morning, this is one thing that I really enjoy about living in Japan. The water is deep, the temperature is hot, and I like to close my eyes and imagine I’m skiing down Mount Fuji (don’t judge me!)
Work is tough just about anywhere in the world, but there’s a certain added mental pressure I feel a lot of workers in Japan have to deal with. I don’t think you (or me) could fully understand it unless we were Japanese, and while it isn’t true for everyone, it’s definitely true for a lot of people.
When work expects so much of you, it’s really important to separate your work and home life. As such, taking a bath to reset yourself and your mind is a great thing to do. When people in Japan have a bath at home as soon as they get in from work, it’s almost like they’re telling themselves “ok you’re home now, it’s time to relax”.
Why Do Japanese People Have a Bath Instead of a Shower?
Well, we already know people in Japan take both. Is it necessary? If we’re being practical then no it’s not. But as far as mental health and relaxation are concerned then I think it’s really important. In the house we live in (a Japanese house with a curved roof!), we’re taking baths more regularly now that the cold weather is starting to come around. I would say 4-5 days out of every week the bath is run, and the other 2 or so are where we’ll just have a shower.
I expect this number to change when things start getting hot again. Although having a deep and hot bath is lovely, Japanese summers are absolutely ridiculous and I won’t be getting in a bath during one of them!