Visiting a Japanese home comes with a lot of rules. If you have ever had a homestay family or visited a friend, you may have already noticed that you need to take a small gift with you and make sure you wear slippers and different slippers for different parts of the house! Etiquette and social rules in Japan aren’t too difficult to pick up and are easy to get used to, but they can initially be a little overwhelming, especially when you don’t know what to expect. To avoid confusion or embarrassment, it is best to do some research before you visit a Japanese home.
There are etiquette rules about eating like using chopsticks properly, and finishing all your rice at mealtimes. There’s also the rule of not blowing your nose in front of people for instance. So it should come as no surprise that the Japanese have their own rules when it comes to taking a bath. Here are some surprising rules to remember when taking a bath in a Japanese family home!
In most Western countries, bathrooms are all-in-one. There is a toilet, a basin, probably a few cabinets, and a bathtub where only the inside of the bath can get wet. You are specifically taught as a child to towel off and not to drip in the rest of the bathroom.
In many homes in Japan, this is different. The toilet is in a different room entirely and upon entering the room containing the bath, you’ll notice there is no shower curtain. This is because the whole room can get wet, and you stand on the floor, not in the tub, when you take a shower. Many households would also have a small stool to sit down on and keep washing yourself.
Here’s the thing that might confuse you – the bath isn’t actually meant to wash you, just to relax you and get you ready for bed. The shower before entering the bath is the one intended for cleaning yourself. Use the shower as you normally would; shampoo your hair and wash your body entirely before going anywhere near the water in the tub.
There will usually be a cover on the bathtub, but if there isn’t, be careful not to get soap suds or shampoo in the bath while showering and cleaning yourself. Other family members are going to be using the same bath water so they won’t want to see globs of soap when it’s their turn. If there is a cover, make sure to put it back on top when you’re finished. It not only protects the water, it also conserves the warmth.
Finally, and very importantly, don’t pull the plug when you’ve finished! Baths in Japan are specially designed to keep bath water hot, and often one tubful is used for the whole family. It might seem odd, but remember that you enter the bath completely cleaned, so sharing it is as normal as going to a swimming pool or spa.
Leave the bath water alone and cover it up again when you get out (unless you are the last one to take a bath and are instructed to to let the water out, but it’s unlikely for a guest to be asked this).
The last one is more of a common sense, than a cultural Japanese norm. Make sure you’re not leaving any razors or anything behind when you leave the bathroom. Some households have a special switch on the outside of the room to quickly dry it. Ask your homestay mother or the head of the household if they’d like you to switch anything on when you leave.
With these very important rules in mind, taking a bath in Japan can be very relaxing. If you’d prefer to just take a shower, that’s totally fine as well. Knowing the rules and expected behavior beforehand can save you some time and possibly some embarrassment, so be sure to keep these important bath rules in mind.