Getting Wet: Adventures in the Japanese Bath
Kodansha International, 2006 (2006)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
ssociated Press Tokyo news editor Eric Talmadge has lived in Japan for over two decades, and availed himself of a myriad of Japanese baths from resort hot springs to the local
(public bath) and the newer
family bathing theme parks. He considers the Japanese bath '
a very conducive place for reflection
' and tells us that, despite the morning shower making inroads with young folk, '
the nightly bath remains a common household tradition in Japan.
' At the end of his book, he offers an Afterword of
on where to soak, and how to behave, while soaping and in the bath.
n a book that is essentially a series of related essays, he explores all aspects of immersion from the history of the bathing tradition (in the 1700s, the shogun had barrels of hot-spring water continually delivered to his castle, a two-week journey!) and the origins of the
(bath robe) to deaths (particularly of the elderly) while bathing, claims of naked racism, the decline of public baths and (gasp) bathwater dilution scandals that have rocked the nation. Overall,
has less to say about the bathing experience and much more about the Japanese bath culture - which, Talmadge tells us, for many is more
he author muses about fossil water;
; dining as part of the full
experience; when to bathe in the nude or in a swimsuit (more the latter since laws spelled the end of mixed bathing, a tradition apparently being destroyed by the lecherous); bath salts, powders, and the hot springs essence industry; Japanese mythology; and Soapland, prostitution with a bathing theme, where the young woman acts '
like a human towel
'. His language often waxes lyrical as when he speaks of the Zen garden ambiance of the Ikaho spa or describes the ideal hot springs experience as '
a controlled mental meltdown, when all the normal flotsam of the brain recedes, allowing the warmth of the moment and the beauty of nature to seep slowly into one's core.
hough I have bathed in Japanese
(traditional inns), including at a hot spring resort (particularly enticing after a couple of weeks of hiking the Nothern Alps) I had no idea of the variety of baths described in this book - such as carbon dioxide, sulfur, iron-heavy, calcium and even (yikes) electric and radioactive baths!
makes me yearn to return to Japan to sample this variety - and I encourage you to do the same. There's nothing like a good hot soak - as an Ikaho bath manager suggested to the author - to
cleanse the soul
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