Japanese culture and lifestyles through the eyes of NHK WORLD personalities
Erica Angyal is a health consultant, speaker, and author who served as the nutritionist to the Miss Universe Japan organization for 8 years. Her life's mission is to inspire well-being from the inside out. On NHK WORLD, she hosts Medical Frontiers.
The Japanese love their bath-time, whether it is in a hot spring (onsen), a public bathhouse (sento), or a soak in a private tub (ofuro). Bathing in Japan truly is something of an art.
To experience Japan, I would absolutely recommend enjoying the ritual of an onsen, a natural hot spring bath or even a rotenburo—the open-air version. They are also the perfect place to take in the beauty of the Japanese countryside and to relax and unwind in nature.
For first timers, the whole experience—from thoroughly washing oneself before you actually get into the bath, to the scorching hot temperatures, to being completely naked in front of strangers (of the same sex however!)—can somehow be a little intimidating. But once you get used to it, the Japanese onsen can often become an addiction—relaxing and rejuvenating.
Thousands of natural onsens bubble up all over Japan from north to south. There are currently over 2,300 recognized onsens and each has its own unique rejuvenative and healing qualities, depending on the specific composition of the water—its minerals (such as sulfur, manganese and iron), levels of acidity and alkalinity, and so on.
The onsen custom has a history stretching back over 1,300 years. The waters were considered sacred and both peasants and samurai alike enjoyed soaking in them to ease fatigue and to heal injuries.
The onsen ritual continues and even today, onsens are one of the favorite ways for many Japanese to unwind and to relax. The average Japanese visits an onsen twice a year and many vacation or travel to hot spring resorts and stay in traditional Japanese inns (ryokans).
But they are not just a wonderful way of unwinding and relaxing. There is a staggering amount of science to back up the therapeutic effects of enjoying an onsen. Some of which include improved systemic circulation, reduced blood pressure and diminished pain, relief for conditions such as arthritis, eczema and asthma, an improved immune system and sleep and all of the benefits that come with lowered levels of stress hormones.
You don't even need to escape a huge city like Tokyo to enjoy an onsen. You can visit one of the many "super sento" which are essentially a playground of different baths and often include saunas and you can enjoy massage there too. Some have up to 14 different types of baths including natural hot spring and outdoor baths, and are the ultimate place to relax and recharge without getting away.
However, if you can't visit a hot spring bath in Japan, you can enjoy the benefits in your own bathtub. Add a few tablespoons of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) or baking soda and enjoy a long relaxing soak. Particularly before bed, a long hot soak increases core body temperature, which then drops, allowing you to fall into a deep refreshing sleep.
And along with the endless benefits there is nothing quite like sitting in a rotenburo – a hot spring bath outdoors in nature, gazing at the sky or the sea, hearing the sounds of a gentle river flowing, and being completely removed from the busyness and stress of everyday life. It truly is heaven!
Erica Angyal is a nutritionist, health consultant, speaker, and author of eleven books on health and beauty.
Born in Sydney Australia, Erica graduated from the Sydney University of Technology in 2000 with a Bachelor of Health Science in Acupuncture. She received her diploma in Nutrition from Nature Care College in Sydney, and is a member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS).
Erica joined Miss Universe Japan as the official nutritionist in 2004 to 2012. The Miss Universe Japan representative was crowned Miss Universe in Mexico in 2007, and in 2006 the Miss Universe Japan representative became the 1st runner up at the Miss Universe Contest in Los Angeles.
Erica's greatest passions are the areas of preventive nutrition and holistic anti-aging strategies and she has made it her life's mission to empower and inspire people to maximize their health, beauty, and well being "from the inside out".