1.3 The benefits of bathing: pleasure and science

In front of the bath was a wall of glass, which had a latch for the floor-to-ceiling center window. Undoing the latch, I slid the window back. Snow poured in. I could also hear snowflakes falling on black branches. Gradually, as it got light, and as I sat in the bath, the forest appeared. I was alone but part of nature, so not alone. Another time, I bathed with a group of strangers, Japanese and Westerners, outside of Myojinkan ryokan in Matsumoto, most of us whispering and laughing, just enjoying being together in the hot water. Feeling a sense of belonging I had not felt before. Studies support these anecdotes. You can find research describing lower blood pressure, less arthritic pain, softer skin, and mental calm by bathing in natural hot springs. The hard data isn’t conclusive, and it’s not at all evident that the effects are lasting. But that’s not entirely the point. Bathing calms you down, it does offer a cure of sorts, and you don’t need a doctor to tell you when something feels good. This information is a bonus, like finding out that scientists have learned that chocolate cake is not just delicious but good for you. (page 91-92)

Sachiko: There are many different kinds of hot spring water in Japan, with different temperatures and different chemical components. Yamashiro hot spring is an alkaline hot spring and it is considered one of the best in Japan, boasting its 1300 years of history. Thanks to the sedative effects of sodium and calcium, and to the temperature that improves blood and lymph circulation, bathing can be very relaxing. From a scientific point of view, there are also other positive effects, but, as you wrote: “Science is not entirely the point”. The opportunity to leave the everyday life to stay in a hot spring resort in a good environment will activate the autonomic nervous system and help reduce stress and anxiety.

Scott: I agree with everything! And another good point to make is that, it is not just the science, it’s the experience. One of the things that is so interesting about Japan to me and I think to people who experience an onsen in Japan is that it is a way to reduce stress without medicine, without psychotherapy, it is very natural, and it has a real therapeutical effect in a way that it does not involve medication and it doesn’t involve psychiatry, it’s just a natural approach to stress. It is very powerful

Sachiko: And good for the skin!

Scott: Very good for the skin!