The Importance of Cleansing in Japanese Culture

The Japanese are known for their obsession with cleansing oneself and their surroundings. Everywhere you go in Japan, you will see different forms of cleansing and cleaning rituals – be it at a local’s home, at restaurants, at public baths, at shrines, etc. 

Take a look at some cleansing rituals that are an intricate part of Japanese culture:

Onsen and sento: The cleansing of one’s body is highly important in Japanese culture and this is evident with the sheer number of onsens (natural hot water springs) and sento (public baths) dotting the Asian country where locals immerse themselves in warm or hot water as a cleansing and rejuvenation ritual. Even at Japanese homes, bathrooms are fitted with a shower station to cleanse oneself first, followed by a hot soak in a tub to revitalize the mind and body. 

Double cleansing for the face: The Japanese are known for their youthful, radiant skin. So, what’s their secret? The Japanese beauty or J-beauty standard is known as mochi hada or rice cake skin, which is all about having plump, supple skin through proper cleansing followed by hydration. Japanese women ensure that they remove all makeup and build-up of dead skin cells, sebum and environmental impurities from the face using a two-step cleansing method known as double cleansing – first with an oil-based cleanser and then a foaming, water-based cleanser. So if you thought splashing your face with water before bed will cut it, think again!

Oshibori: Another cleansing ritual in Japanese culture is where a small hot towel called oshibori is served to patrons at restaurants that allow you to clean your hands. This is mostly used to wipe your hands not the face, but if you do decide to wipe your face with it, ensure that the face is wiped first and then the hands, not the other way around which is frowned upon (for the belief that germs from one’s hands can be transferred to the face which is unhygienic).

Temizu: Shinto is the largest religion in Japan being practiced by almost 80% of the population. Visiting Shinto shrines thus, forms an important part of their culture. Purification practices are commonly practiced before entering these shrines. A cleansing rite known as Temizu is performed at a temizuya (a water ablution pavilion at the entrance of shrines), where one needs to wash their hands and mouth with the cool, flowing water before entering. It is believed cleansing purifies a person as well as wards off disasters that may affect the society. 

Osoji: Did you know Japan has a house cleansing ritual? Just like spring cleaning that takes place in USA and Europe, and the extensive house cleaning that is done in India just before Diwali to welcome Hindu Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of good luck, wealth, and purity), similarly Japan has Osoji, or ‘the big cleaning’, that is usually done at the end of December to usher in the New Year. New Year is an important celebration and event in the Japanese calendar, and Osoji focuses on the importance of house cleaning and letting go of anything unnecessary in one’s life (such as old clothes, electronics, furniture, etc.) and therefore, letting go of negative vibes as well. It is linked to the idea of beginning anew and having a fresh start in the New Year!

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