If you’ve spent any time in Japan, especially visiting Japanese bathhouses (sento), you may have come across an enigmatic corner door which beckons mysteriously. And you may be surprised to discover that the room — tucked next to the bathing facilities, possibly standing next to a cold water bath — is in fact a sauna. These heated rooms are very popular in Japan, having come over from Scandinavia, and sweating it out is something that many Tokyoites love as much as the baths themselves. This article is here to help you enjoy your sauna experience, taking tips from local sauna experts (read: us and our Japanese friends) so you can have the best time.

Saunas, Shibuya

The History of Sauna in Japan

The modern sauna concept began in Northern Europe. Nowadays, most people associate saunas with Finland or Estonia, both of which have claimed the pastime as a world intangible cultural heritage through UNESCO. The word “sauna” itself is actually derived from the Finnish word meaning “bathhouse.”

Put simply, the sauna is a hot room, generally made of wood, heated to around 150-175 degrees Fahrenheit. Saunners enter the room and sit calmly, sweating in peace for up to 12 minutes at a time, in accordance with the sauna clock. Once finished, they will head outside to cool down, then probably go again for another round, or two.

The first sauna was introduced to Japan at a public health facility in Ginza in 1957, but it didn’t become widely used until the first Tokyo Olympics in 1964, when the strapping Finnish athletes built their own sauna facilities in the Olympic Village. This gave the pastime a much needed boost, as those after the Finnish sportsman physique started to use the sauna themselves.

Until the 2010s, it was mainly businessmen who used the saunas. Salarymen who didn’t have time to go home and sleep after massive amounts of overtime would head to the sauna to heat up and chill out, grabbing a quick rest in the sleeping area before returning to work.

But come the 2010s, several factors contributed to shaking off the sauna’s “old man” stereotype. A very popular manga series called Sado was centered on going to the sauna, which contributed to its rise in popularity IRL. Sauna influencers who detail their sauna exploits via YouTube and social media, have also been influential in popularizing the pastime.

Nowadays, there are many different sauna-specific facilities, offering a variety of extras, from remote-work packages to fancy goods.

Outdoor Seating at Sauna&co

How to Use the Sauna

Once you’re all naked and ready to go, it’s important to take a shower and get clean before entering the sauna. (If you’re entering post-sento, you’ll have showered already anyway.) You can keep your towel on the whole time if you’re shy, but you don’t have to — lounging around without any clothing is perfectly acceptable within the sauna walls. Sometimes a sauna mat will be provided; if that’s the case, take one in with you and lay it on the bench.

Be careful to make note of the time you enter; you may feel dizzy or dehydrated if you stay in the sauna too long. When your time is up, or once you start to feel like you’re about to get uncomfortably hot, take your mat with you and leave. If you used a mat, rinse it afterwards and put it back, then head over to the showers to give yourself a quick rinse. Be sure that all the sweat is off your body before getting into the cold water bath. Immerse yourself slowly in the cold water bath — getting in too fast may result in a cold shock.

Once you feel refreshed, get out of the bath slowly and have a drink of water (or a sports drink) to replenish that which was lost. Then head out to one of the chairs to relax. Chill out for at least the amount of time you heated up inside the sauna.

Many regulars we spoke to see a cycle of three times as the optimum amount, but it’s really down to personal preference. You may just want to have a go once or twice, and that’s okay.


There will be a clock provided that counts up to 12 minutes, although it’s unlikely that you want to be in the sauna for 12 minutes on your first time. Don’t worry if you can’t manage more than a couple of minutes — it’s not a competition!

People like to drink sports drinks and soy milk when they’ve finished that sauna, it’s a good way to replenish nutrients and fill the spaces where you sweated the toxins out.

Shiretoko, produced by sauna brand TTNE

Types of Sauna

There are various different types of saunas, like mist saunas, salt saunas and loyly.

  • Mist saunas are 104 degrees Fahrenheit on average, which makes them relatively easy to be in.
  • If you’ve found yourself in a salt sauna, take some of the salt provided and rub it onto your body — it’s really good for your skin!
  • In a loyly sauna, you can control the temperature yourself by ladling water onto the stones, which will release steam. The sauna will be the hottest while it is steaming, and gradually cool down. Leave a few minutes between each pour. Generally speaking, once is enough.

Sauna Goods

Once you’ve become a keen sauna user (saunner), you may be tempted to get some sauna merch.

Our favorite are the sauna hats, which you can wear to protect your hair from getting frazzled and also keep some of that body heat in.

You can also get your own sauna mat. Why not?

Related Posts