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Q: Airman 1st Class Dina Farmer at Misawa Air Base, Japan, wonders about the “electro baths” she’s seen at onsens in Japan. “I frequent the onsen a lot, but I can’t read kanji,” she says, “so I don’t really know what purpose it serves besides shocking me and making my back feel better for a little bit. So what is up with the electro baths in onsens?”

A: Because the old-fashioned nice soak in a hot bath might not be enough for some folks, many more modern Japanese bath houses have added some zing, literally and figuratively.

Denki-buro, as they’re called in Japanese, are baths lined with metal plates that emit a weak current through the water. Yeah yeah, we all learned in preschool that water and electricity don’t mix, but apparently that rule is suspended in Japan. Or at least in the denki-buro.

Like you said, Dina, stepping into the water gives you a little shock, and the claim is that jolt relaxes and soothes your muscles. Since you say it makes your back feel better, there must be something to it. I just wouldn’t advise a denki-buro for those wearing pacemakers. And onsens will add to that “no buzz” list anyone who has high blood pressure or is pregnant, elderly or a baby.

Other modern onsen enticements include baths with Jacuzzi-like jets, also for soothing muscles; baths laced with scented oils and flower petals; and, at really ritzy places, water spiked with green tea, sake, coffee, wine — you name it.

It might seem a little scary to try these trendy baths, but hey — you’re already naked, so you might as well not be shy.

Got a question about goings-on in the Pacific? E-mail Stacy Chandler at:


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