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A Nation of Bath Lovers Steeps Itself in Two New Trends (January 24, 2006)

People enjoying a "stone-slab bath" (Hayashi Kensetsu Kogyo)
Young and old alike, the Japanese love baths, whether in a hot spring, a public bathhouse, or a private tub. Soaking in hot water is a time-honored way of relaxing. In recent years, two new types of bath have become popular. One is a dry form of bathing known as ganban-yoku ("stone-slab bath"), and the other is a soak in hot water infused with the mineral germanium. Both types of bath are attracting attention for their putative benefits in terms of weight, beauty, and detoxification.

Sweating on a Stone Slab
Ganban-yoku involves lying down on a warmed stone slab and sweating. Infrared rays emanate from the stone, warming the body from within. This invigorates the body's cells, causing the user to begin sweating profusely in about 15 minutes. Ganban-yoku is more convenient than a bath or sauna and is said to stimulate metabolism and cellular regeneration.

According to Hayashi Kensetsu Kogyo, a Hokkaido-based construction company that designs and builds stone-slab baths throughout Japan, the air temperature of a ganban-yoku room is around 40 degrees Celsius. The temperature, lower than that of a typical sauna, makes it safe for women, children, the elderly, and others who want to avoid subjecting their bodies to extreme temperatures. A major selling point of ganban-yoku is that it allows one to sweat profusely without exercising or enduring extreme heat. Yet another appealing feature is that unlike the sweat produced in a sauna, rock-bath sweat is not sticky, so there is no need to shower afterward.

Some think that ganban-yoku originated in Japan's Tohoku region, in the northern part of the main island of Honshu. However, because most of the rock used for the stone slabs comes from Hokkaido, the craze is said to have started on that northernmost of Japan's four main islands and spread throughout the country from there. Stone slabs are being installed at beauty salons, chiropractic clinics, health spas, and hot-spring resorts, but dedicated ganban-yoku facilities also exist. Many of these facilities are for women only, and on weekday evenings they are often packed with customers stopping in on their way home from work.

The ganban-yoku boom looks set to spread beyond Japan's borders. According to a report in a Hokkaido newspaper, Hayashi Kensetsu Kogyo has already begun to receive orders from the United States, Australia, and other countries.

Taking a germanium bath (Oedo Onsen Monogatari)

Detoxing with Germanium
The other new bath craze involves germanium, a mineral that has attracted attention for its alleged usefulness in promoting cellular regeneration and metabolism and stimulating the circulation. These benefits, like the effects of ganban-yoku, come from sweating, which in this case is induced by soaking the hands or feet for just a short time in hot water infused with germanium. People seeking the benefits of this mineral can either visit one of the growing number of facilities specializing in germanium baths or sample an emerging array of products designed for use at home.

Naturally, many people are drawn to stone-slab baths and germanium baths for their reported beautifying and slimming effects. But these new styles of bath are also attracting attention as ways to rid the body of toxins.

Detoxifying, or "detoxing," is the process of ridding the body of substances that interfere with health and beauty. The human body expels toxins naturally in sweat, urine, and other excretions. However, many people believe that these functions have been hampered by various aspects of modern-day life. For example, air conditioning is so prevalent nowadays that people simply do not have as much occasion to perspire as they used to.

While many dietary supplements for the purpose of detoxing are sold, stone-slab and germanium baths offer the additional benefits of stimulating metabolism and cellular renewal and inducing sweat. It is their multiple therapeutic properties that have attracted so much attention to ganban-yoku and germanium baths.

Nowadays, more and more occupations require people to sit in front of computers for extended periods of time and adhere to a stringent, minute-by-minute schedule. People are thus seeking time and space for healing, and this need manifests itself in trends like the popularity of stone-slab and germanium baths. Other attributes of these two new kinds of baths that make them well-suited to today's lifestyles are their speed and convenience. Ganban-yoku and germanium baths look set to become mainstream healing methods.

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Copyright (c) 2006 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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