What is a Rotenburo?
A rotenburo is an open-air hot-spring bath.
“Ro(露)” means it is exposed, without walls or fences.
“Ten(天)” means the sky.
Have you ever bathed in a rotenburo?
These days, rontenburo can be found on the rooftops of business hotels and in super sento bath houses even in Tokyo. While city rotenburo are just fine, without a doubt, rotenburo that offer natural views of the mountains or ocean are much nicer.
Let me start by talking about some rotenburo I have visited that have impressed me greatly.
One rotenburo in the mountains that left a strong impression was in an inn in Tobira Onsen spa, in Nagano Prefecture. I visited during winter about 15 years ago, but I still remember the beauty of the snowy scene. Everything around me was pure white; it was really magical, and I felt like I was in a dream.
As for rotenburo near the sea, I’d like to mention one I found in an old inn in Ojiro Onsen spa town, Shizuoka Prefecture. The rotenburo at this inn is really close to the ocean—or more precisely, it feels like it is on top of the ocean. The hot water that overflows from the bath falls down, into the ocean. You feel more like you are in a wonderfully comfy warm sea, rather than being in a hot tub. (I’ve visited this spot lots of times, as I love the sea.)
Japanese and their love for hot baths
By the way, wouldn’t you agree that the Japanese are unmatched in the world for their love of hot baths?
Japan has about 100 active volcanoes, and this is why it has lots of hot springs. Apparently, there are about 3,000 hot springs in the country. There are also theories that say that Japan’s bathing culture started as much as 6,000 years ago, around the time when people started getting into hot springs (which were rotenburo, of course). One wonders if the Japanese who lived thousands of years ago had the same kinds of feelings about bathing in rotenburo as we do now.
Japan’s bathing culture has continued on for centuries and centuries since that time. During the Edo period (1603–1868), the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo) had lots of public bathhouses (these were not rotenburo, but baths inside buildings). Not many of the houses in Edo had a bath, so lots of people would go to the bathhouse and bathe there. This means that the bathhouses of the time were not merely places to take a bath, but were also important places for the townspeople to communicate with each other.
These days, small bathhouses are disappearing from our towns and cities. On the other hand, facilities such as super sento are visited by lots of people, from children to old folks, who enjoy a variety of bathing styles there.
We are already in the second half of December, and the cold weather has arrived in Tokyo. How I’d love to visit a hot spring on the weekend and have a long, slow soak in a rotenburo.
About this week’s blog author:
Mr. Shigemi Matsumoto, was a junior high school Japanese teacher for 23 years before joining Coto Language Academy. Therefore, he is a Japanese language pro. He currently teaches Coto’s Intensive Courses (intermediate and advanced), Business Courses and the Part Time N1 grammar and reading classes. He is also involved in developing teaching materials at Coto.