Yesterday I Had a Shocking Experience at a Japanese Public Bath

Most of my experiences with Japanese culture are very pleasant, but occasionally they can be quite shocking. Last night was one such experience.

baby in a bathtub

Photo courtesy of OMF International

Here’s what happened.

I took a trip down to my local public bath, which is happily a literal five-minute walk from where I live. It was my first time at this particular baths, having moved into my house (and indeed Japan) less than three weeks ago. It did not disappoint. There was of course the standard bath, but they also had two saunas and an outdoor mini-hot-spring type bath (I’m not sure how you translate 露天風呂). And also a bath that I really should have checked before getting into.

You see, either side of the door leading to the outside bath there were two little cool-down baths. Because you can of course have too much of a good thing. Especially when that good thing is heat. So in Japanese public baths and onsens you get these baths full of cold water. The general plan (as far as I’m concerned) is get in quick and get out quicker.

So that’s what I tried to do.

Except it turns out that the bath on the left of the door had a sign that I really should have read before getting in.


If you know Japanese you’ll understand why the side of my body cramped up as I dropped myself into this in-hindsight-rather-clearly-sign-posted bath. It was not a cool-down bath. It was an electric bath.

Yup, electric. A bath with an electric current running through it. Not enough to kill you (although there is quite a long list of ailments that would make using it inadvisable), but enough to make your muscles spasm out of control. Especially if you’re expecting cold, still, non-electrified water.

I guess there’s a couple of lessons to be learnt here:

  • If you want to engage with a culture, then you need to be willing to try out new things.
  • But first make sure they’re not electrified.


What about you? What’s the most shocking experience you’ve had whilst immersing yourself in a different culture? (It doesn’t have to involve a lame wordplay on the word ‘shocking’.)


7 thoughts on “Yesterday I Had a Shocking Experience at a Japanese Public Bath

  1. FujikoToyohashi

    This was definitely not what I expected to read when I clicked on the title (^_^) I don’t think I have heard of でんき風呂 and I can’t imagine what it would feel like even if I knew what I was getting into. I’ll make sure to check the signs more carefully the next time I’m in a japanese bath 😉


    1. levibooth Post author

      Hey, I’m still flying the flag for onsens. I guess it’s kinda like Mr Kiplings: onsens are so good that I can’t get mad at them even when they try to electrify me!



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