Asia, the world’s largest and most diverse continent, occupying roughly 49 countries, pays homage to thousands of enchanting heritages and tapestries of customs, languages, religions, and art. From Southeast Asia’s Land of Smiles to East Asia’s The Land of the Rising Sun and the Wonder of Asia in the South, the fascinating influences of different vibrant customs and practices make the continent stand out.

A Japanese woman in a kimono. Photo: Evgeny Tchebotarev

Where Tradition Plays a Part

Japan is among the countries in Asia with the most affluent culture and fusion of traditional and modern innovations. From their popular kimono attires, tea ceremonies, and the art of origami, Japan is also known for its traditional bath culture up in the mountains, which is called “Onsen.” “To make the most out of your visit to Niseko, you might want to explore the chance to have a memorable Japanese bath.

Meanwhile, South Korea has also engraved particular customs into their identities. Besides its solemn rituals and ceremonies during special occasions and social events, their culture has an interesting insight into bathhouses—a communal space called Jjimjilbang.

And if you are into relaxation and meditation, you might want to come and see Thailand. It is most famous for its grand Buddhist temples, warm community, and exceptional Thai massages. They also have one of the best traditional medicinal practices, including steam baths, which are believed to relieve sore muscles and help women recuperate after giving birth.

Traditional Onsen bath in Japan. Photo: Tsuru no Yu

Understanding the Japanese Onsen Experience

Onsens are one of the trademarks of an authentic Japanese experience. This has been part of their culture since thousands of years ago. Onsen translates to “hot source,” often associated with a hot spring, an abundant bath rich in good minerals. This Japanese tradition has two types: outdoor baths are called roten-buro, while indoor baths are called noten-buro. Onsens or hot springs are one of the selling points of luxurious hotels, resorts, or ryokans, a Japanese inn that features tatami-matted rooms.

Aside from Onsens, Japan also has Sento, a hot bath that uses artificial hot water. Some establishments even call it “Super Sento,” which refers to an upscale bath experience—a more luxurious take on Onsens—and sometimes offers other services such as saunas. They are also more common in urban areas than the rural ones.

Related Article: Must-Try Activities in Niseko Beyond Skiing

An upscale Sento in Japan. Photo: Natasha Alden.

Korea’s Unique Bathhouse Culture

On the other hand, Jjimjilbang is a Korean bathhouse popularized in the 1990s with hot and cold tubs, saunas, showers, and spa treatments. It often includes different rooms with varying temperatures aiming to achieve more rejuvenating health benefits and reduce stress. Combining ancient bathing traditions with modern amenities, these communal spaces offer more than just cleansing. Visitors immerse themselves in a unique bathing experience, invigorating treatments, and various relaxation options. Socializing is also integral in this practice, as families and friends typically gather in these vibrant bathhouses for bonding purposes.

A Jjimjilbang experience. Photo: Travel Stained Blog.

Traditional Thai Herbal Bath

Thailand has a similar bathing tradition, which includes herbal steam baths. Historically, Thai people lived near rivers and canals and traditionally used herbs to wash and scrub their bodies. These herbs are prepared fresh, dry, or in boiled variations to improve health and holistic well-being. They also believe the practice has healing properties that relieve inflammation, relax muscles, and alleviate or prevent post-partum symptoms among mothers. The common denominator of Jjimjilbang, Onsens, Sento, and Thai herbal steam baths is that they are all culturally inherited from generations and have become part of their identities.

Thai herbal steam bath. Photo: Tourism Authority of Thailand

An Asian Experience

It is important to remember that in trying out these traditions, we must have courtesy. People usually seek these places for two reasons: to relax and socialize. Travelers must be aware of the proper etiquette before, during, and after their traditional bath experience. Since these bathhouses are communal spaces, it is important to do thorough cleaning and scrubbing before skinny-dipping down the bath to keep the sanctity of the place and make it a pleasant experience for all.

One must also note that traditional bath customs often practice gender segregation. Men and women have dedicated spaces where they can spend and enjoy their refreshing time.

Traditions are sacred for each country. They are unique and vital in the preservation of their culture. It is essential that while we are traveling and enjoying their rich traditions, we also help protect their heritage.

Read more about Culture & Tradition here.