For health, happiness and just having fun!

The beginning of May marks a string of public holidays in Japan, with May 5 being Children’s Day. Children’s Day is well-known throughout Japan, with families hanging koi carp streamers for their kids. And sure, if you ask a random person on the street here what event is celebrated on May 5, pretty much everyone will say ‘Children’s Day’. But actually, there is another much lesser known custom that is practiced on May 5, and that’s shoubu yu (iris bath)

Shoubu yu is a custom that is celebrated by taking a bath with iris flowers. Bathing culture is big in Japan, with an abundance of hot springs all across the country. Taking baths at home is also popular, and there are a wide range of crazy bath salts you can buy to make your bathing experience a unique one. But actually bathing with a plant? Sure, it might not be too far off the winter custom of bathing with yuzu citrus fruits, but this is a practice that is most likely unknown to a large percentage of Japanese people.

The practice of bathing with irises is allegedly good for your health. Sounds kind of like a weird superstition, but if you look at how lively and high-spirited some of the older Japanese generation is, there might be something in it after all. So, we at SoraNews24 decided to give it a go, and take a nice relaxing soak with some irises.

In preparation for shoubu yu, our Japanese language-reporter Ikuna Kamezawa decided to hit the shops as soon as May started to grab some irises, but the shopkeeper told her with a laugh “You’re too early. Come back on May 4.” Apparently irises are not really big sellers outside of shoubu yu, so they’re often not on sale until then.

So Ikuna went back and got six packs with around 20 iris leaves total, costing 900 yen (US$8.50). She weren’t really sure how many she should buy, but this amount seemed like it’s more than the average. Feel free to use as many or few iris leaves as you want, though.

Depending on the area of Japan, the leaves can be separated or bound together. Ikuna’s home prefecture of Tottori has the leaves bound and put in the hot bath water, so that’s what she did. If you’re thinking “But which is the right way? This is a traditional custom, so I have to do it a certain way or it will be disrespectful!”, don’t worry. Ikuna believes the exact opposite. She thinks you should be free to do it the way that you want to do it.

In fact, Ikuna used to play with the iris leaves by biting and tearing them. She played so much that her parents would always tell her, “You’re going in the bath last.”

▼ It’s good to see her bathing habits remain the same.

The irises give off a unique yet distinct aroma. For Ikuna, it’s a nostalgic scent. It’s not particularly strong, though, and it doesn’t change even if you rip up the irises. So in other words, shoubu yu is not necessarily about taking a nice-smelling bath, or respecting an ancient culture. It’s about enjoying yourself freely.

▼ Enjoy the irises any way you want!

We mentioned before that shoubu yu is meant to be good for your health. Of course, iris flowers have medicinal purposes and iris oil is often used in aromatherapy, but irises are also believed to ward off diseases and disasters, and it is believed they help people cope with the heat of the summer months.

If you want to celebrate with your own shoubu yu, grab some iris leaves, pop them in the bath and have a good old soak. Even if you aren’t a superstitious person, you can enjoy taking part in a Japanese tradition that many Japanese people themselves aren’t familiar with. And if you’ve got any children having a bath with you and they want to play with the leaves, Ikuna would like you to tell them; “Go for it!

Photos ©SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]