Monday, April 2, 2018

High Mountain Bath and Forest Sauna Therapy at the Okushiga Kogen Hotel


The Okushiga Kogen Hotel in Nagano has created a very unique bathing environment that combines aspects of shinrinyoku (defined below), soaking in hot water, and sweating in a sauna. Four essential elements come together to facilitate incredibly bathing at this hotel. The first is the water—the source is melted mountain snow that becomes a nearby river—which is heated and piped into the simple rectangular bath positioned in front of a wide window that provides a spectacular view. The second element is the calming forest that encircles the hotel.

In addition to these, outside the rear of the hotel is a sauna trailer (the third element), also with windows. Next to the sauna is a transparent geodesic dome (the fourth element) It is about five meters in diameter. Lounge chairs, a small rug, and a heater are within. For 3,000 yen, guests can bathe in the sauna, walk outside into below freezing temperatures to scrub their bodies with clean snow, and then relax in the warmth of the dome while immersing themselves into the panoramic forest landscape. I recommend repeating these steps at least twice and finishing this cleansing experience in the big hot bath within the hotel. I think of this type of bathing to be forest-sauna-bath therapy. The trailer and dome are available for private rental, so families and friends can experience this healing tranquility together.


Click here for an article about Okushiga Kogen. The next link will take you to the Okushiga Kogen Hotel.


Soaking in a hot spring or bathtub is bathing. But bathing in Japan also includes lying on a hot surface, such as heated tiles, rocks, rock salt, or a floor. The Japanese word for this action is ganbanyoku 岩盤浴. The first kanji means stone. The second is plate, and the last kanji represents bathing. If you have never experienced ganbanyoku, imagine that you are lying in a low-heat sauna and the heat is coming from beneath you.


Another type of bathing is sunayu, 砂湯. The literal translation is a sand bath. Bathers are buried in sand. Only the head remains uncovered. Hot steam flows through the sand and heats their bodies more slowly than immersion into a hot water bath does.


Finally, think about forest bathing, which the Japanese call shinrinyoku, 森林浴。 The first two kanji mean forest, and the last is bathing. One explanation of forest bathing is “a mindful, immersive experience into the environment of a forest.” For more information, read this page from the website of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy and Guides.


Sometimes we take a bath merely to get clean or to heal an injury or to relax the body, but for many people in Japan, bathing is a process of physical, emotional, and mental refreshment. For the hot spring addict, a bath often becomes a meditative experience (without chanting or other rituals) that brings about a peaceful state and a sense of being joined to the world.

This blog promises to acquaint readers with Japanese onsen, but on rare occasions, I introduce extraspecial locations (such as the Okushiga Kogen Hotel) within Japan that do not officially qualify as onsen as the according to standards set by the Japanese government. To be legally designated by the government as an onsen, the spring water must contain at least one of nineteen specific minerals and naturally be over 25 ºC, or 77 ºF.

To learn more about Japanese terms that belong to the world of Japanese bathing, visit the Visual Japanese Onsen/Hot Spring Glossary.

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