Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweat me

Last weekend I went to a ganbanyoku or hot stone spa with my new fabulous Japanese girlfriend (yes, apparently there are 2 or 3 left on the island). We went to Batu Batu in Yokohama but there are a bunch in Tokyo, and probably any other city that is, you know, hip to sweating over hot stones.

I'd been to a similar ganbanyoku at Odaiba's crazy amusement park onsen but this was really for the hardcore sweater, not some poncy dip-your-toes-in-the-water hot stone spa. The basic concept is a nice dark room filled with new-agey tribal music, preferably with flutes, and a couple rows of long granite slabs inlaid in the floor. You lie on these stone slabs and sweat. Apparently there is some crazy ionic shit happening while you sweat that improves circulation and more ailments than you can shake a stick at.

We arrived and received our pale green jumpsuits, not unlike those sexy ones I wore in Seoul last year, and 3 towels. After changing into our chain-gang gear, we stepped into the hot room and spread our jumbo bath towels over the numbered stone slab appointed to us (they assign friends numbers on opposite sides of the room to discourage talking) and then could either use the small one for our heads or go with the block-o-wood pillow, which was surprisingly comfortable for a block of wood. Unlike many saunas, they allow you to bring in a bottle of water, which really helps towards the end of each "sweat sesh". Before entering the ganbanyoku, signs instructed us to lie on our stomachs for 5 minutes and then flip onto our backs for 10 before taking a 5 minute break in the relaxation room. The package we were on gave us 90 minutes of commercial-free sweat time so we were able to complete the cycle 4 or 5 times before our limit was up. Many of these places encourage you not to shower after, as your clean sweat supposedly acts as a natural moisturizer and has some other freaky natural-enhancing properties and to tell the truth I was contemplating becoming one with my sweat until I actual, you know, sweated. After that 90-minute session I could have realistically faked having showered what with all the water coming off my body, but trust me, you want to take a shower after ganbanyoku.

The rooms are heated to around 40 degrees C so while much cooler than a sauna, it is the perfect heat for sweating like a whore and being fairly comfortable while doing so. As with so many "esthe" treatments in Japan, ganbanyoku are also supposedly good for weight loss and sure enough, the one we went to had a before/after picture tacked to the wall showing that you too, can show up and sweat for a couple hours each week and the fat will literally melt off. That's about the only thing that bothered me, can we not just enjoy it for what it is and rely on good old-fashioned exercise and diet for weight loss?! I hardly know why I bother to be surprised any more but I am still constantly surprised at the amount of crap on the market for weight loss here, particularly those vibrating belts. We aren't still wrapping ourselves in saran-wrap and trying to sweat out the weight are we?!

Mini-rant aside, the ganbanyoku experience was fantastic and I may just have to become a weekly sweater at my local one.

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