Saturday 15 July 2023

Big in Japan: Saunas, Glamping, and The Beatles

Click here to preview
I recently had the opportunity to meet someone from the Finnish Embassy to talk about Japan's immigration policy (or lack of); afterwards, the conversation turned to the current sauna boom in Japan. While the first sauna in Japan is typically traced back to 1957 in a bathhouse in Ginza, it was the Finnish athletes at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics bringing sauna equipment that triggered the first sauna boom here. During the 1970s and 1980s saunas combined with public baths and massage parlours to create a second boom, though the sauna remained something of an old guy thing. Today, though, young people of both sexes are enjoying saunas - taking sauna trips (satabi), enjoying special food (sameshi), and basking in totonou (整う): the refreshed, euphoric feeling when you jump between a sauna and a cold bath (see here for a nice graphic in Japanese). Sauna related manga have also exploded - indeed, "Sado" (way of the sauna), a six-set manga series which started in 2016, is said to have sparked the current third boom. 

Glamping in the gorgeous Nasu wilds - but watch out for bears!

One possibly unique feature of saunas in Japan is the use of tent saunas which can be set up wherever you like. And talking of tents, there is another boom going on at the moment in Japan: glamping or glamorous camping! As regular readers will know, the Japanese summer is scorching which makes an air-conditioned tent the perfect (guilty) summer pleasure. We visited Hamiru's Forest Glamping Resort and Terrace in Nasu, a small town in Tochigi, northeast of Tokyo, famous for its beautiful hot springs, mountains, forests, rivers, and hiking trails - no wonder the Imperial Villa, where the emperor stays in August and September, is located here!

Panoramic shot inside the tent - complete with hammock, aircon, and fridge!

The resort was rather wonderful, 21 dome shaped tents, each with a separate hut for barbecuing, a dog run, a camp fire area (with marshmallows and sticks for purchase), and a shared shower/bath which could be booked for your preferred time slot. As well as hiking trails and hot springs, there are loads of small cafes and shops selling ice-cream, cheese, and various dairy-themed snacks (like "Butter's Cousin"=バターのいとこ). In short, Nasu is the perfect destination for an urban de-tox!

There was one more attraction that the Brit in me couldn't resist, the Penny Lane Beatles cafe/restaurant/shop set in a beautiful English-style brick building with comfortable leather armchairs and sofas and crammed full of Beatles memorabilia, such as photos, posters, guitars, classic albums, and original drawings - all with a Beatles soundtrack in the background of course. This book argues that the Beatles 1966 tour to Japan was something of a turning point in Japan’s postwar cultural development, marking the start of a deepening relationship with the West and even contributed to the construction of a new Japanese identity! Whether you believe that or not, the cafe is highly recommended; in fact, while we were there, there was a nice reminder of our rural location when a wild monkey raided the cafe only to be chased off with a staff member brandishing a cap gun! Maybe a reference to The Beatles song nobody knows, "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and my Monkey"?? Whether you're a Beatles, sauna, or glamping fan, do please drop me a COMMENT!

No comments: