Translated by Hilary Keyes
Japanese Encyclopedia: Rotemburo (Outdoor Bath)
In a country full of natural hot springs, is it any wonder that the Japanese love onsen? Particularly popular are rotemburo, the open-air baths.
Written by ニコ
When one thinks of Japan, onsen or hot springs immediately come into mind. With many natural hot springs and popular hot spring resorts found throughout Japan, it is safe to say that most Japanese people enjoy relaxing in onsen.
Within the broad category of hot springs there is an especially popular category known as rotemburo (open-air baths), where the onsen is surrounded by nature. Today we would like to explain more about these baths, some of their charms and important things to remember when enjoying one, as well as introduce a few unusual rotemburo.
Where to Find Rotemburo?
Rotemburo are hot springs or baths that can be found on rooftops or outside without enclosures.
Rarely found in private homes, rotemburo are easily found in famous hot spring resorts, ryokan, or at hot springs in the city. There are also rotemburo within some skyscraper hotels - found on luxurious balconies or rooftops.
Although we have said that they do not have enclosures, this is not entirely accurate: there are means in place to prevent others of seeing inside the rotemburo, so there is nothing to worry about when it comes to privacy. And if you are concerned about appearing nude in front of others, there are open-air baths where you can reserve your own private usage time, or hotels and inns with en-suite rotemburo. Please search for these types if you are so inclined.
The Charms of Rotemburo
One of the greatest charms of an open-air bath is the sense of freedom it gives. Particularly enjoyable are those in hot spring towns where you can enjoy an outdoor bath while surrounded by gorgeous natural scenery; feeling the wind blowing about you as you sit immersed in the waters is an excellent way to relax.
There are some facing the ocean, ones you can enjoy under the stars, ones where you can hear rivers burbling by and songbirds singing - you can find various rotemburo that will allow you to truly enjoy Japan's natural scenery. Being able to soak in a hot bath surrounded by nature is sure to not only relax you but help you to recharge your batteries.
If you don't have the time to head out into the countryside in search of an open-air bath, rotemburo in the city, with their strategically placed rocks, trees and garden settings make it possible for you to enjoy these baths almost anywhere. Listening to the sounds of insects chirping while seeing the city lights at night as you soak in an open air bath is another great way to blow off some steam and feel refreshed.
Important Points of Rotemburo
Although rotemburo are places of relaxation, there are some important things to keep in mind when enjoying them.
One condition that may arise in the elderly or temperature-sensitive individuals is known in Japan as heat shock. This refers to the cardiac shock that sudden and dramatic changes in temperature may cause in some people who are unable to adjust to the temperatures naturally. Following some common sense however completely alleviates any issues that may arise from this. If you have been drinking heavily or not eating properly, entering any hot place, such as an onsen, rotemburo or sauna can cause your heart to race, dizziness and lightheadedness and even unconsciousness.
This may be particularly bad when trying to enjoy a rotemburo in the winter. There may be a temperature difference between the air and the water of more than 20 degrees, meaning that suddenly submerging oneself in the water could cause your heart beating rate to rapidly increase, which can trigger serious medical conditions in some individuals. In order to reduce the chances of this happening, it is strongly recommended that people first shower in warm water in order to raise their own temperature closer to that of the bath - do not immediately sink into the water, but slowly enter the bath, allowing your body to grow used to the water before sitting down and relaxing in it.
Only Here! Take a Bath with Monkeys!
It's not only people who love soaking in a hot bath. At Jigokudani Yaenkōen in Nagano prefecture, where winter temperatures can reach below 10 degrees Celsius, you can watch wild Japanese monkeys relaxing in rotemburo up close.
Well-known around the world, this hot spring, at an elevation of 850 meters and with an average snowfall of 1 meter, is a frozen paradise where both people and wild monkeys can enjoy outdoor hot springs. As these are wild monkeys, just when they will appear and enter the bath is unpredictable, but when it begins to get colder outside, the likelihood of them appearing grows, making this a perfect place to observe Japanese monkeys in action.
Let's Go to a Rotemburo!
Soaking in a rotemburo is a popular pastime with both humans and animals - an experience that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. With views that change from season to season, the open air baths at hot spring resorts are a wonderful way to relax on vacation; even if you don't stay at the hotel, you can enjoy these baths, or visit ones in the city - there are thousands of ways to enjoy rotemburo in Japan. If you need to rest and recharge, spending time in a rotemburo is our recommendation.