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Discuss the differences between the bathing cultures of different civilizations?


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While the concept of a bathing culture may be most strongly associated with the Romans at the time of the Roman Empire, many cultures have placed social, economic, and personal emphasis on bathing in a way that makes the practice as much about culture as it is about hygiene.  Historically, cultures had very different approaches to bathing, with some ancient cultures considering baths dangerous, while others considered them almost sacred.  Even in modern times, cultures take different approaches to the concept of bathing.

You can see the influence of nature on Japanese bathing tradition, which sets it apart from bathing cultures in many areas.  Japan has a number of hot springs, which may be why it has a long-established bathing culture.   There is an emphasis on peace and tranquility in the bath, with baths also playing a role in religious purification.

Korea has a bathing culture that is similar to Japan’s.  However, while the actual bath part may be similar, Korea’s baths are meant to be social.  They do not just contain baths, but also pools, saunas, and specialized rooms.  Eating, drinking, and socializing accompany the bath.  The areas are separated by gender, but bathers are generally fully-nude and it is not unusual for people to help others scrub their bodies.  There are even bath attendants known as sesshin who apply exfoliating scrubs. 

A similar bathing tradition can be found in Turkey.  The communal bathing area is known as a hamam and it is a social spa that also uses bath attendants.  Like Korean baths, the areas are separated by gender.  Other notable differences are that there are no pools of still water in hamams; all of the water is flowing; it is steamy because the floors are heated stone; and the bathers all wear special towels instead of walking around naked. 

In some places, bathing culture does not actually involve baths.  Instead saunas take their place.  The Finnish and the Russians both have sauna cultures.  Finnish sauna culture is often incorporated into their homes, which usually feature saunas. In fact, sauna plays a role in many aspects of Finnish life, including birth, death, marriage, and even politics and business deals.  Part of the sauna process involves hitting the body with birch branches.  Russia’s saunas, known as banyas, are similar.  However, they are also known for their raucous atmosphere, super high-heat, and the addition of vodka. 

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