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Footbaths Offer a Casual Way to Unwind (February 10, 2005)

People enjoying a footbath (Jiji)
For the Japanese, bathing in an onsen (hot spring) has long been a favorite way to take the edge off winter's chill. But the popularity of another way of warming the body and soul, the footbath, has been quietly heating up over the past year. For those who have no time for a full-body bath, immersing one's feet up to the ankles in a small tub of hot water is an ideal way to find relief from the cold. Footbaths are also convenient, imparting all-over warmth without the bother of changing out of and back into one's clothes.

From Stations to Museums, Footbaths Are Everywhere
One manifestation of this trend is that footbaths are being set up in shops, train stations, and other public places. While opening up a full-fledged onsen facility is a major operation, setting up a footbath is easy. One izakaya (Japanese-style tavern) in Nagoya, which has private party rooms designed to accommodate four to six customers, has installed footbath tubs in those rooms. Customers simply pour bath salts into the water, which is heated to a temperature of about 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), and dunk their feet in. By offering good food with a hot foot bath on the side, the izakaya, called Zabito, may just have hit upon the ultimate relaxation experience.

At Miyagi Baseball Park, the home field of the newly founded Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles baseball team, there are plans to install seats equipped with personal footbaths. And that is not all, these "Rakuten Seats" will also be equipped to massage spectators while they watch the game. The hot water for the footbaths will come from famous mineral-rich hot springs in the Tohoku region, such as Akiu Onsen in Miyagi Prefecture. The tubs themselves are deluxe models equipped with such features such as temperature control, rinse, and water circulation. Baseball fans will feel as if they are watching the game from the comfort of an onsen.

At Arashiyama Station on the Keifuku Electric Railroad in Kyoto, the Arashiyama Onsen Station Footbath opened in September 2004. The footbath is wildly popular. It attracted 23,000 customers in its first 57 days - matching the target that had been set for the entire first year. The station has even begun offering special "footbath commuter passes" for passengers whose sole purpose is to soak their feet in the bath.

Meanwhile, in Hakone, an onsen resort in Kanagawa Prefecture, the Hakone Open-Air Museum has installed a footbath that makes use of the natural hot spring waters that bubble up from under the site. Sitting on a long bench that accommodates 30 people, visitors soak their feet while taking in the natural scenery and viewing outdoor sculptures by Henry Moore and other artists.

During the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, a "footbath café," planned by the Japanese National Onsen Promotion Committee, was set up in downtown Athens. It was a big hit among locals and generated considerable interest in Japanese onsen and footbaths.

A Simple Pleasure with Real Benefits
Cold weather can chill the body, causing a variety of ailments, such as stomach bloating and constipation. Footbaths help to relieve these symptoms. A soak in a footbath is particularly recommended for pregnant women, who are especially susceptible to chills.

Footbaths are just the thing for people who would like to take a shoulder-deep soak in an onsen and but do not have the time or opportunity.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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