It is hot and close here, with soothing music barely discernible in the background, and sweat glistening off a handful of prostrate figures on beds of glittering halite and slabs of marble.
Occasionally, someone will rise to take a sip of water or shift to the cool down room.
This is ganbanyoku, or, ‘hot stone spa’ an experience that has gained great purchase in the last few years in Japan, with nearly 1,000 purveyors nationwide, and a presence in most large spa complexes.
Believers extol benefits that include detoxification, weight loss, improved circulation, and even reduced cholesterol. Other users cite shrunken pores, a glowing complexion, and a feeling of refreshment.
Though ganbanyoku is sometimes referred to as bedrock bathing, there is no water involved except for the sweat produced while laying on the rock and the bottled water meant to replenish the lost perspiration.
Guests don spa bathrobes and lie on slabs of black silica, granite and other stones said to emit minus ions and possess other healing qualities, heated to between 40 and 50ºC. After about 15 minutes, it is recommended to take a break in the cool-down room before going back to repeat the cycle. Most people do between 3-5 cycles per session.
Does it work?
One hot stone enthusiast, Jessica, says, “It’s relaxing, great for my skin and a wonderful way to stay warm during winter.”
Another spa-goer, Norihiro, says, “I go there to relax and forget my busy day in the silent room. In addition to this, it’s pretty good for detoxifying. It’s also cheaper than massage.”
Whether or not it actually lowers cholesterol or shaves off the pounds (and we’re still not sure what minus ions are supposed to do), we do recommend ganbanyoku for recovering from a night out, destressing from a hectic week, or giving your skin a boost and your system a flush.
Average prices range from ¥2,000 – ¥3,000 for 90 minutes, which is enough time to do at least three cycles of sweating and cooling down.
Find Ganbanyoku spas near you (all in Japanese):
www.ishinoyu.jp (stone spa chain; women only)
Text by Selena Hoy