Friday, May 25, 2012

What is a Goemonburo, 五右衛門風呂 (Cauldron Bath)?

One way to gain a comprehensive understanding of Japanese culture is through studying hot springs and the nomenclature of hot springs and baths. Moreover, displaying a deep knowledge of Japanese bathing history and customs will impress your friends and strangers in the hot spring.
Ishikawa Goemon Was Boiled to Death in a Hot Cauldron.
Try Not to Have a Similar Bathing Experience!
Depending upon who tells the story of the legendary Ishikawa Goemon, he was either a Robin Hoodlike thief or a ruthless common criminal. Kabuki plays, Japanese animated cartoons, books, movies have been based on his life and legends. Apparently, he was a real person who was caught and executed by being boiled alive in a cauldron. One legend goes that his son was killed along with him. Another story of his demise is that he managed to hold his condemned son above his head and that the boy was pardoned just before Goemon died.

Luckily for us, we can enjoy goemonburus, baths shaped like cauldrons, in many locations without being boiled alive. These small baths are usually made of ceramic ware or metal. To see how ceramic goemonburus are made by hand in Japan, click this link.

My Japanese relatives purchased a large stainless steel barrel and made their own goemonburu. We roasted chestnuts around a fire of branches we had collected from the ground around their hut in the mountains of Nagano. After that, we used the fire to heat the bathwater. The goemonburu was placed under crystal stars. The sky glittered above the dark silhouettes of straight dark cedar trees. Since goemonburus are usually only large enough for one person, we took turns heating up before retiring into the cold hut. It was a very simple but memorable bathing experience. 
We Are Not Thieves - Please Do Not Boil Us
To learn more about Japanese terminology and culture related to hot springs, please read the onsen/hot spring glossary.

The Goemonburu is in the Right Corner.

Hot Spring on an Island (Ioujima, Nagasaki)


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