A Japanese sauna is a small room that facilitates dry or wet heat sessions. This type of luxury (though not every land thinks of it as a luxury) is commonly used for relaxation, healing therapy and as a pleasant way to wind down. In Japan, you can find a sauna at practically any sports center or public bathhouse. The rules of the sauna in Japan are a bit different than the U.S. and Finland (where the sauna originated).
For one thing, the majority of saunas are segregated into male and female genders. This is not only customary but is the law throughout most of the nation. Furthermore, nudity is strictly required in most saunas.
There is an interesting story behind the Japanese sauna. After World War II, public bathhouses were fairly common in the country. However, as time progressed and more citizens were able to afford houses and apartments, they were also able to afford their own private baths. The bathhouse was on the verge on becoming extinct—at least it would have been, if not for the handy invention of the sauna.
Proper etiquette sees bathing before entering the bath and the sauna. In communal baths, everyone shares the same water. This intimacy helps to create companionship with other bathers and encourages friendly conversation.
When bathing, do not immerse yourself too quickly or else you may experience pain from the strong water pressure.
Sauna facilities in Japan usually package several services into one deal. For example, the typical sauna might include oil massage, foot and hand massage, and a full rubdown.
Basically, some Japanese sauna and bathhouse facilities will allow sexual activity to take place, and others will not. You should definitely “feel out” the bathhouse before you start feeling up any fellow passersby. These sauna clubs are usually opened at all hours of the night.
When you arrive, you are expected to remove your shoes and store them in a pay locker room. An attendant will provide a robe, washcloth and other supplies. Private rooms tend to be expensive, while “mix rooms” are where the action is. Amenities besides the sauna and bath might include smoking rooms, TV and video rooms and bedrooms. Before entering, understand that harassment is not tolerated.
Now that you know the basic etiquette of the sauna in Japan, hopefully you will be more comfortable if you choose to try one of these facilities out during your next visit.