7 Key Elements of Japanese Bathroom Design

Japanese style bath

Japanese bath design is a contemporary style incorporating the traditional Japanese culture of simplicity, natural elements and an overall look that is clean and uncluttered. Neutral colors and contrasting textures are key to creating an atmosphere of relaxation and serenity. Imagine turning your bathroom into more of a spa and you can see why this style has become so popular.

The Traditional Japanese Bath

In Japan, bathing is a big part of the culture and is done much differently than in countries like the United States. A Japanese household bathroom has a large, deep bathtub, separate washing area, separate changing area and the toilet is located in a completely different room. The thought of using the toilet and bathing in the same room would be silly, if not repulsive to most Japanese people.

Washing the body with soap is done in the washing area, usually a sink and faucet with a pail for rinsing or a shower with a floor drain. Only a washed, clean body enters the steamy hot bath. The purpose of the bath in Japan is to soak. The water is kept clean so that other family members can take their turns soaking. Not only is soaking in one's private household part of Japanese culture, but so is soaking in community bath houses. In some Japanese bath houses, the water is from natural hot springs.

Japanese Bath Design Elements

Designing a Japanese style bathroom is a major remodeling endeavor because a true Japanese bathroom is significantly different than a Western bathroom. But if you have the budget and the means to get it done, you will be able to create a tranquil oasis in your own home that you can retreat to anytime. There are several important elements you will need to convert your bathroom into a Japanese style bath.

Deep Soaking Tub

A soaking tub is called ofuro in Japanese and can be made from different materials, including wood. In Japan, the wood they use for soaking tubs is called hinoki. Hinoki wood is excellent for creating soaking tubs because it is naturally anti-bacterial, it's resistant to mold and insects and it won't rot. You could also use cedar as an alternative because it has similar characteristics and a wonderful aroma.

Point-of-Use Water Heater

The soaking tub requires a lot of water to fill and is designed to be used several times before draining completely and refilling. The soaking water should be hot, so you will need to install a point-of-use water heater.

Separate Bathing Area

You will need to design a separate bathing area for actually washing your body and hair with soap and shampoo. Depending on how traditional you want to go, this could be either a sink with pails or a small shower area with floor drainage.


Staying consistent with the minimalist style of Japanese décor requires simple lighting. A skylight over the soaking tub would make great general lighting for day use. Task lighting around the vanity mirror would be helpful for shaving and applying makeup. Recessed lighting would also work well for general lighting.


Use neutral colors or soft earth tones. Don't use a high gloss or anything too shiny. Pastel blue or green will help create a tranquil, relaxing atmosphere.


Again, it is important to keep in mind, less is more. One or two small bamboo plants with some polished river rock would look nice. You could add some simple wood shelves to hold towels and maybe a few scented pillar candles to use while you soak. Bamboo fiber towels make a great choice for bath towels because they are naturally anti-microbial which makes them odor resistant. Just remember to choose neutral or earth tone towel colors as well, perhaps something that contrasts with the wall color.

Separate Toilet Room

Make sure there is not a toilet in your Japanese style bath. You will need to build a small room off to the side for a toilet or if you have other bathrooms in the home, just skip the toilet altogether.

Things To Consider

Japanese bath design is a considerable financial investment because it requires a drastic alteration to traditional American bathroom design. While this design would make sense in a modern, contemporary style home, it would not be a good fit in a traditional Victorian or rustic western style home.

A Japanese bath might not be the best fit for a guest bathroom either. You would be likely to find the soaking tub drained after only one use with a soap ring around it and your guests might wonder where you hid the toilet.

If you're the kind of person who spends little time in the bathroom, just taking a quick shower when you need one, a Japanese bath would not make sense for your lifestyle. On the other hand, if you enjoy pampering yourself with a trip to the spa, long, hot baths and like simple, contemporary style or Asian design, a Japanese bath would be a great home improvement idea.

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7 Key Elements of Japanese Bathroom Design