While renovating our apartment in Milan, the first thing I really wished for was a Japanese style bath. I grew up in Japan, and therefore have been accustomed to the Japanese style of bathing all my life. My parents are now in South Africa but they also built their house entirely around the Japanese bath, which has the best view of the house! For us bathing is the most relaxing and important moment of the day. It is where we cleanse our body but also our minds.
So when I initially mentioned I wanted a Japanese bath in our apartment in Milan, people thought I was crazy, but I was determined... I did a lot of research and came across this company in Japan who still makes traditional wooden baths. I have to say that my experience in dealing with them was so pleasant, that what first seemed like an impossible dream, quickly became a reality. As the experience was so smooth and efficient and actually enjoyable, I have decided to become their agent and try to promote Japanese baths in Europe.
Instead of trying to explain exactly what they do, I thought it would be best to have a detailed Q&A with the company, as they explain things so beautifully.
Q: Please give me a brief background regarding your company, how was it started?
HINOKISOKEN, once one of the departments of the parent company dealing in wooden products, got independent and was established in 1993 to specialize in wooden baths. It started with about ten ambitious people and now has more than 30 employees half of whom are craftsmen. Currently we are the largest manufacturer of wooden baths in Japan and our products are used in top-tier Japanese ryokans and hotels as well as exported to various countries.
Q: Which types of wood do you use and where do they come from? Is there a specific reason you use such wood?
Two types of wood are mainly used for export models; Kiso-Hinoki and Aomori-Hiba. They are indigenous to Japan. The former grows in Kiso Valley near HINOKISOKEN and the latter in Aomori prefecture in the Northern Japan. Both regions are so cold that it takes a few hundreds of years for the trees to grow tall. Instead, they become dense and tough enough to be water-resistant, and contain much oil inside, the source of relaxing fragrance.
We handpick supreme material, knot-free and straight-grain, of more than 200 years old. Wood’s swell-and-shrink movement gets bigger in the repeated wet-and-dry cycle in the bathroom. Under the circumstances, hairline cracks may easily occur with lesser material. On top of its durability and resilience, you will be satisfied with elegant fragrance and pleasant texture of these precious woods.
Q: How does the Japanese way of bathing differ from the Western way?
In the Japanese bathroom (where the toilet is usually located separately), there is a place outside the bathtub for washing. You first clean your body and take a bath. This manner keeps water in the tub clean and allows you to be in the hot water to your satisfaction with comfortability.
Also, in the ancient Japanese thought, bathing was regarded as “Kiyome (purification)” of not only the body but also the spirit. For the modern people who are occupied with everyday work, bathing is effective to refresh fatigued body and mind at the end of the day, bringing you extreme relaxation and moment of mindfulness.
Q: I believe each bathtub is handmade by artisans. How much training do these artisans undertake? How long does it take to make one bathtub?
At HINOKISOKEN, wooden bathtubs are made by skillful craftsmen one by one by hand. It takes approximately three years to master the technique. We also have been all over Japan to install bathtubs, small and large, and see construction sites by ourselves. This experience makes it possible to understand where we should pay attention and continuously improve our products. Apprentices learn such know-how and have experience through on-the-job-training with veterans.
It takes five to ten days to make one wooden bath. The term depends on its size and type, though. But apart from production, more days are necessary to dry material and make other preparations. Production lead time should thus be 30 to 45 in total including shipping arrangements.
Q: Do you see a trend where Westerners are starting to appreciate the Japanese style bath? Are there specific countries that seem to be more interested in the Japanese baths?
Yes indeed. We feel that the Japanese-style bathing is being appreciated worldwide recently in proportion to more and more visitors coming from abroad. Among them, Singapore is giving us lots of orders these days. In Europe, we have been receiving orders and inquiries from France and Switzerland. And now U.K. and the Netherlands are joining in our customer list.
Q: What is your company’s dreams & vision for the future?
Today we are always being chased by time, smart phone, SNS, etc. It will however be nice if you are released from such frustration and “negative emotion” even for a while when soaking into a bath of natural wood. You feel relaxed, taking the burden off the shoulders, and refresh yourself for the day to come. We would like to offer such space and time for revival to the world.
We are also aiming to use not only aged trees of 200 to 300 years old but also relatively young ones between 80 and 100. This is to make the ethical and plant-friendly circulation that contributes to the environment in one way or another.
As mentioned, I will become an agent for Hinokisoken in Europe, so if you have any queries regarding Japanese baths, please do not hesitate to contact me. We are happy to answer any questions or concerns that you may have, or send a quote for any project size.