I don’t ski, but I sure do enjoy après-ski pursuits, particularly soaking in a hot tub after a long day of fireside reading (my preferred indoor activity as I wait for my family to return from the slopes). In every winter vacation rental we’ve stayed in, though, the hot tub has been a massive, plastic eyesore.
I recently spotted on Remodelista a stylish alternative to these backyard behemoths—an outdoor Japanese wooden soaking tub. Our home has a small, narrowish sideyard, and this good-looking, compact ofuro (the Japanese word for bath) would be a welcome addition.
In the US, soaking in a hot tub is seen mainly as a recreational activity; in Japan, a long evening soak is considered a healthy everyday ritual to promote circulation and a sense of a wellbeing. The proper way to use it is to scrub your body and wash your hair prior to stepping into the tub to keep the ofuro water clean. (Traditionally, in Japanese households that have ofuro tubs, the water remains as each family member takes turns soaking in it, starting with the eldest. Once or twice a week, the water is drained and refilled.)
Bathers sit in the round ofuro tub as they would on a chair and are submerged to about shoulder height. Traditional versions are made from Hinoki wood, which is naturally water-resistant and has a pleasing lemony scent (check out Japanese-based Bartok Design Co. for information about their handbuilt Hinoki ofuro tubs). Stateside, cedar ofuro tubs seem to be more common. And these days, they are available in different shapes (oval, rectangle, or traditional round) and with multiple ways to heat the water: many manufacturers will allow you to choose from a heater powered by firewood, electricity, gas, propane, or heat pump.
They are generally sized to fit one or two bathers at a time; if you’re in the market for an ofuro tub that seats more, you’ll have to look at custom options. Also consider Scandinavian outdoor hot tubs, which are similar in style and spirit but can accommodate more people.
- How to Bathe, Japanese Style
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- The New Outdoor Bath: 10 Open-Air Tubs for Summer Soaks