University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

Bathing Customs in Japan, Middle East, and Eastern Europe

Bathing Followed by Cool Water or Steam Rooms, Massage, and Socializing


Japanese women in a bathhouse, 18th century
Image: Kiyonaga Torii (1752–1815), Onna yu [bathhouse women]; Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (Call no. FP2-JPD, no. 1834a-b; Digital ID: jpd 02170fsa 8b25362).

Baths and steam baths have been a traditional part of life in Japan, the Middle East, and parts of Eastern Europe. In these traditions, a person washes the whole body and then spends time in hot or cool pools or steam rooms, sometimes has a massage, and later rests comfortably while visiting with others.

Japanese society has the term “skinship” for the bond created in villages and small social groups by sharing the bathhouse.

Today our day-spas and athletic clubs complete with saunas, jacuzzis, and soaking pools are the heirs of the bathhouse tradition in Greco-Roman and Middle Eastern cultures.

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