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Bathhouse Basics (10): The Hinoki Tang (히노끼탕)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics, plants and trees by 노강호 on December 1, 2010

the Hinoki conifer in Japan

All bathhouses have their own individual character which is why it is always good to be familiar with a range of establishments that you can use when you feel the need. Some places are more suited to nursing a hangover or the flu while others offer particular experiences, perhaps an ice-room which is particularly welcome in summer or has water therapy pool should you have back or neck ache, etc. And the temperatures of various pools tend to differ between establishments. Temperatures can differ in cold pools between one bathhouse and another though I am not sure whether or not this is by design or coincidence.  There is an excitement in visiting a new bathhouse in the anticipation of what will be experienced. I have only visited one bathhouse that I never felt compelled to return to and indeed have found that most bathhouses offer something unique.

The scent of nature lingers in bathhouses; fragrances such as mugwort, ginseng, pine, rose, or lavender drift over the e-bente-tangs (이벤트탕) and saunas are often rich in the primeval aroma. One of my local bathhouses articulates its atmosphere by the subtle use of rock, wood and pine and one of its central features is the Japanese hinoki tang (히노끼탕). Initially, I found this pool quite boring. A wooden bath is hardly very motivating especially as I like temperatures at the extreme rather than simply comfortable and approaching body temperature. But once again, as with so many aspects of bathhouse culture, something calls you back and I’m beginning to realise the bath’s appeal lies both the pools natural materials  and its texture, which at first is quite strange.

Hinoki (편백) cypress forest in Korea

The hinoki tang, is a Japanese style bath and is made from the conifer, Chamaecyparis and in particular the Chamaecyparis Obtusa. The tree is also known as the Japanese Cypress, Hinoki Cypress or simply, Hinoki, (편백나무) and are common throughout Asia and especially Japan and Korea. The wood, hard and almost white in colour, has been traditionally used for buildings, a good example being Osaka Castle, in Japan but also has uses in crafting beds, floors and even the wooden pillow, mok ch’im (목침)  used in bathhouses.

The Impressive Osaka Castle, built from the hinoki cypress

hinoki cypress wood

The first time you bathe in a wooden bath is quite strange. Most of us have spent our entire lives bathing in baths or pools made from enamel or some form of porcelain and the feel of wood against the skin is odd especially as it has a slightly slimy texture. However, in the right atmosphere, a wooden pool enhances a bathing experience, helps produce a more natural ambiance and certainly feels pleasant against the skin.

A hinoki tang in the full traditional Japanese style, with a  roof  and a constant flow of water into the pool by way of what looks like a wooden box,  is a pleasing sight.

hinoki tang with a traditional ‘roof’

a tranquil hinoki tang situated outside and in a beautiful setting

an hinoki tang with the addition of a roof, a frequent feature based on the traditional Japanese model

a bathhouse hinoki-tang

the same hinoki-tang as above, but empty

the texture and smell of the wood enhances the experience

who needs a partner to spoil the ambiance. The beauty of an hinoki-tang in a truly awesome setting

The Hwang-So Sauna in Song-So, Daegu, has a hinoki tang (히노끼탕).

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

A Touch of Tranquility – Update (1)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu by 노강호 on November 5, 2010

This article was originally published in Daegu Pockets in October 2010

All bathhouses have their own unique ambiances created by a combination of lighting, décor and design. Additionally, they differ in terms of what they offer. Bathhouses all have common features but every bathhouse provides something that differentiates it from other establishments in the vicinity.

Poolside

Situated in the very heart of Song-So, in the Mega Town Complex, which not only dominates the area physically, but in terms of facilities, boasting a large cinema complex, buffet and pizza restaurant and numerous other amenities, Hwang-so has gradually grown on me. My first visit was on a cold, dark November morning when I arrived to find the premises packed with a class of school boys – not the kind of atmosphere you want at 5 am and on your visit to a bathhouse in a number of years. I found it small, noisy and claustrophobic and didn’t go back.

I have since learnt that if you want peace and tranquility it can be found in the center of this bustling building and that school-boy invasion a blip that can temporarily blight any bathhouse.

Song-So's 'Mega Town' Complex - I minute from my front door

The reception to both the male and female bathhouses are on the eighth floor and once you have stripped to your birthday suit it’s only a couple of paces into the bathing complex. Here you will find a very intimate atmosphere with black marble tiling, low lighting and even some slightly darkened areas. Hwang-so is certainly not a large bathhouse. Four central baths, all internally lit, provide a water massage pool, warm and hot pool, and a bubbling Jacuzzi with herb additives. A large cold pool occupies one end and completes the facilities found in every bathhouse. As for the complex’s specialties, you can enjoy a Japanese style cypress bath (히노끼탕) and my favourite, a humidity sauna  (습식 사우나) where water sprays from the ceiling like the finest, warm rain and is so fine it hangs, caught in subdued lighting, like heavy mist.  A massive rock bowl sits in one corner and is filled with cold water which you can throw over yourself when you get too warm. Additionally, the seats in this sauna are cut from tree trunks and their woody aroma scents the air. Adjacent, is a Swedish style pine sauna with very low lighting. I have come to really enjoy the tasteful complimentary additions such as, water features, rock, and chunks of pine tree, which occupy various nooks and crannies.

The changing area is fairly spacious with central slatted benches and sofas plus the usual television and a resident barber. From this area, the jjimjilbang, the clothed, mixed sex communal area, on the seventh floor, can be accessed.

Unless you simply want to shower, you should never frequent just one bathhouse anymore than you should eat one type of food. Different establishments provide different experiences and to capitalise on this you need to a few alternative which can be matched with your appropriate moods. Hwang-so has no poolside television or piped music and swimming or playing in the cold pool is not allowed. If you find yourself in Song-so with a hangover or simply want to relax, this is a great sanctuary. My only criticism, there is no sleeping area within the pool area.

Link for information and details on Hwang-So Sauna

 

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.