The tradition of spas and relaxation in Japan and South Korea

by Emma Fressignaud

Throughout history, we have sought relaxation and wellbeing, escaping the troubles of daily life. Yet, eastern Asia holds a long-standing culture of body and mind wellness, especially Japan and South Korea which have become the pioneers of body and mind care. Due to volcanic activity, numerous natural hot springs run through the lands of eastern Asia. Those are used to continue a large part of Japanese and Korean cultural heritage: traditional bath houses and spas, also called onsens (Japanese hot spring resort towns). The tradition of bath houses and spas in those regions can be traced back to 1.800 AD. The significance of bathing has shifted greatly over time, and wellness enthusiasts will enjoy this guide when arranging a special spa holiday in eastern Asia.

  • A religious meaning
The tradition of bathing in Japan originates from the practise of Misogi: the performing of ritual purification as part of the preparation to worship. This comprised practices such as purifying oneself in hot springs or saunas and standing under waterfalls, as well as sleep deprivation or fasting. One of the most ancient hot spring resorts in Japan is Arima-onsen, said to have originally been a sanatorium built by Buddhist monks in the 8th century. The naturally hot water contains high levels of minerals and is recommended in various medical treatments, making this onsen a perfect halt during your special wellness break in Japan. The hot water used for treatments is pumped from 300 metres underground, and each of the seven springs is known to heal specific pains and ailments.
  • Public baths for all
As bathtubs were not common among households in the 13th century, public bath houses (called “sento” in Japan or “jjimjilbang” in South Korea) were built for all to use. In Korea, bath house are so popular they are often set on several floors, where you can find gender segregated or unisex areas, depending on your preference. Hot water and herbal treatments are coupled to massages and body care, ideal for those in need of pampering on their leading spa break in Korea. One of the most recommended and famous jjimjilbangs in Korea is the Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul a must-see for spa fanatics on their luxury wellness holiday in South Korea. This high standard Korean spa offers a garden, a sauna and a healing zone to relax in hot water pools and saunas alongside an array of services such as massages, facials, or scrubs.
  • Nature’s beauties
Together with the value of mind and body well-being, Japanese culture finds great beauty in nature and greatly emphasizes it in some onsens which link traditional wellness facilities and lavish natural sceneries. As a volcanically-active country, Japan benefits from many natural hot springs used for spa-goers’ delights. Many onsens have outdoor pools, allowing guests to bathe in hot, mineral-rich water surrounded by stunning natural settings. Among the most popular spa areas in Japan is Owakudani, west of Tokyo. Owakudani, literally the Great Boiling Valley, offers a wide range of ryokans (a Japanese inn with a spa) and onsens, and fantastic outdoor settings all around Lake Ashinoko, allowing guests to get a unique view of Mt Fuji on sunny days. One of the highly recommended hot spring resorts of the region is Tenza Tojigo which is placed on a woody hill-side; this onsen is known for its beauty and the quality of its waters.
  • Traditional care and modern facilities
Following Asia’s blending of traditions and fast paced evolution of habits, luxury spas in Japan and Korea are considered pioneers in the creating of new spa treatments. From hot stone massages to fish pedicures, many wellness treatments originate in eastern Asia. Keeping in mind a strong inclination for well-being, East Asian spas successfully mix customs and modernity. Onsens and jjimjilbang alike successfully bring together luxury state-of-the-art facilities and ancestral and innovative cares to delight spa fans. Displaying a grand example of modern spa and traditional care, the Plaza Hotel in Seoul will delight you on your five star spa holiday in Seoul. Among the array of treatments offered at The Plaza, you will be able to relax in the Vichy shower. This horizontal shower set above a massage table, enabling you to enjoy your massage whilst a cascade of warm water is poured over you. Other treatments include anti-ageing care, weight control, detox treatments, medical skin care, or face and body massages in this oasis of tranquillity, making The Plaza the leading wellness spa in South Korea.

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