An In-Depth Look at Ofuro Hot Tubs
Ofuro’s are the oldest form of bathing in Japan. With roots that date back five hundred years, they’re a luxurious ritual that promotes healing and relaxation. Hydrotherapy is the main therapeutic aspect of Ofuro’s – they’re said to activate metabolism, balance a person’s nerves and hormones, relieve stress, increase blood flow to the organs and tissues, improve mobility for people with arthritis or muscle degeneration – all things we want from a good bath!
In modern times Ofuros have been used by professional athletes. The difference between a hot tub and an Ofuro is that while both provide a relaxing massage for tired muscles, an Ofuro is a closed-in soaking tub. A swimmer might spend hours in a smoldering hot ofuro after a grueling workout, whereas a hot tub is more like the bathtub we’re used to – sometimes even half-submerged in water.
Ofuros are lined with clay which retains heat for long periods of time, so they only need to be heated once or twice before use. As you can see in the pictures below, it’s common to install them indoors. This is because the humidity and heat they release is considered unhealthy for humans to be exposed to outside.
The principal components of an Ofuro are a platform to sit on, a water tank/tub, a heater, and a vent to remove excess steam. Next, we’ll take a look at each component in detail.
The platform: An Ofuro’s platform is usually made of wood and slopes towards the center so that when you sit in it your legs fall below your body. Most often they cut right through the center of the platform so it resembles a heart when viewed from above. This slope facilitates optimal blood flow in and out of the legs while bathing – relieving stiff ankles and knees.
Most ofuros we’ve seen in public baths are Japanese-style boards – for several reasons. First, the Japanese culture value the importance of precision and natural beauty. They also like their baths to be “traditional” and to use lots of wood. Additionally, when you’re in a public bath, it’s hard to cover up your midsection in order to sit in a Japanese-style board and many Ofuros we’ve seen in public baths seem like little more than small saunas – an uncomfortable place to sit for very long during use.
If you prefer a “Cape Cod-style” ofuro , we know where we’ll get ours…
The water tub: In general, the more volume a tub has, the more it costs to install. The best volume for a tub is between 50 and 100 liters – if you have a “hot spring” nearby, this is probably the volume you’ll find most often there. The reasoning behind this is that it ensures sufficient hot water whenever someone takes a bath. That said, an Ofuro is better than a hot spring because there’s no need to walk to it – you can just sit down on your platform and soak for hours!
Most ofuros come with simple drainage systems that allow water to be released into the garden or sink below when you’re done bathing. A larger number of tubs is said to reduce the difference in temperature between the water and air, but we haven’t found a direct correlation between the two.
The heater: Inside the tub, there’s a heater. The main types are oil-filled radiators, electric heaters, gas heaters, and ceramic heaters.
Oil-filled radiators are the most popular because their heat can be adjusted easily by turning a knob. They provide an infrared radiant heat which makes them gentler to the skin than other methods. On the downside, they’re difficult to clean and use fuel quickly – but many people say that this is worth it for the gentle skin warmth they provide.
Gas heaters are easy to turn on and off, but they can get too hot to touch, requiring people to stand unusually far away from the tub. They also require periodic maintenance (rotating burned-out bulbs, etc.) and can clog easily with thick makeup.
Electric heaters are popular among ofuro users because they tend to be more powerful than ceramic heaters. Efficiency varies greatly among brands of electric heaters so be sure to compare costs before selecting one.
Ceramic heaters are the most popular in Japan for ofuros for their durability and adaptability. They heat up quickly and adjust to a range of temperatures. They’re also small enough to be out of the way. The biggest disadvantage is that they require a constant power connection – but that’s not a problem for most people since they already have an electric outlet close enough to reach from the tub.
Vents: In spite of creating a humidity-rich environment, most Ofuros still dry out your skin too much if you don’t let all the hot air escape somewhere. Some have vents at the bottom or small holes in the side which is enough to let off the hot steam without letting cold air in… but we’ve found that the ones without vents often get too cold and must be kept on a warmer setting.
If you prefer Ofuros to hot tubs, you should choose one with ventilation. Just make sure it’s working properly or that there’s enough room for it in your bath.
Finally, we’ll conclude this article with a few words about the delicate nature of the clay lining an Ofuro. Most clay manufacturers recommend cleaning their products several times before use and afterward – especially if they’re used in public baths – although maintaining the health benefits of a Japanese-style Ofuro is covered in the two paragraphs above.
It’s easy to clean an Ofuro because you need only scrub the surface lightly to remove dirt. If it comes time to repaint, there are dozens of options available for this purpose. Many people use pigments made from iron powder which produce a durable, natural finish. Others buy fluorinated paint which prevents it from flaking off over time – especially if you’ve used something other than an Ofuro bath soap or detergent on the tub.