South Korea in the Perspective of a Filipino Expatriate

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The NAKED Truth About Korea’s Jjimjilbang(찜질방)

The common room in the Jjimjilbang
Scene from the TV series Twenty Again
I guess the bravest thing I ever did in South Korea is to participate in a public bath completely naked. The first time I heard about Jjimjilbang, I was told that everybody inside the room must go naked, and I deliberately decided right at that instant to never ever go to that room, like ever in my life. Why would I go naked in the public? No way!

However, when you live in South Korea, there’s no way you can escape the chance to try the Jjimjilbang. I was on my weekend trip somewhere down south when the train suddenly stopped and the voice prompt advised everyone to get off the train because it’s already 12 midnight and subway operation will be shut down. I was worried because I’m far from where I lived and I have no place to stay. I don’t want to spend extra money for a hotel or motel room, so the only option is to find a jjimjilbang where I can spend the night. That was the start of my Jjimjilbang shenanigans and it has opened my eyes to all the naked truth about it.

Koreans call it Jjimjilbang, but usually, the building where it is located has the word “SAUNA” written on their sign boards. If you go on a trip all over Korea, you will find hundreds or even thousands of Saunas. This is how important it is in South Korea. While it is awkward to go all out naked and share a bath tub with the naked strangers, Koreans find this thing normal.

Usually, this is how the set up inside a jjimjilbang. When you enter the building, you must go to the counter first to pay. The entrance fee ranges from 8000 won($8) up to 15000 won ($15), the price depends on the size of the sauna and the popularity. Some examples of expensive saunas in Seoul are Siloam and Dragon Hill Spa, these are the most popular ones but also expensive. After you paid, they will give you your uniform. Yes, there’s a uniform and it is usually a pair of short pants and a shirt. Don’t expect too much though because several people had worn them before, so sometimes you will get a jaded and loose shirt but they’re generally clean.

After you got your uniform, you should go to the shoe locker, this is where you should leave your shoes. And then proceed to the bigger lockers where you should leave all your belongings including the clothes you are wearing. You only have one key and one locker, so you must take care of it and make sure you locked your own locker.

This is how the locker room usually looks like
Scene from the TV series: Legen of the Blue Sea
After you get yourself all out naked, proceed to the bath room. Please note that the room for girls is different from boys (Of course!!!), so make sure you enter the right room, or else, it would be completely chaos! When you enter the bathing area, you will see naked men scrubbing each other’s naked body.  I don’t know about the girls’ room because I’ve never been there, lol, but as for the guys, you should not freak out if you see a man touching and scrubbing another man’s body. Chances are, they could be father and son, or brothers or just friends. As awkward as it may sounds, for Koreans, it’s part of their culture. They believe that being naked in the same room with your friends or a family member will strengthen the bond between each other.

Friends, acquaintances, family members go all out naked in the sauna
Scene from TV series Perseverance Goo Hae Ra
Aside from that, you will also see a massage corner where a half naked ahjussi either massaging or scrubbing somebody’s naked body, and yes, including that thing down there. Ahjussi’s goal is to clean everything in your body. Some are on the shower, others are on the bath tub with different water temperatures ranging from 25 degrees celcius up to 50 degrees celcius. You just have to choose where you are comfortable depending on how hot your body can tolerate. Soaking your body into hot water is very beneficial to the health, so that’s one of the reasons why Koreans are into Jjimjilbang. Inside the bath room, you can freely use the soap, the toothpaste and the towel, but you must bring your own toothbrush and shampoo because oftentimes, they’re not provided.

This is how the sleeping area usually looks like
Scene from the TV series:Legend of the Blue Sea
After the public bathing, you can now wear the uniform provided when you entered. You can then proceed to the sleeping area. The sleeping room is common for both girls and boys. This is also an area where all family members or group of friends meet after taking a bath. This area is supposed to be quiet but most often than not, the common room tends to be so noisy. Good thing most of the jjimjilbang provide different kinds of room with different “healing powers”. Some rooms are too hot that it can take all the liquid out of your body. Some have pebbles where you can lie down and relax. Some have salts and there’s even a room with an ice. If you want to get just normal sleep, you can find some normal corner where you can spread the mat they provided and just sleep. Please note that amenities from one Jjimjilbang are different from another. As I’ve said, prices vary, so if you pay only around 8000 won, don’t expect that much. The expensive ones have a lot to offer though. Some Jjimjilbangs have canteen, gymnasium, arcade room and a little store where you can buy shampoo, shaves, drinks, and most of all, the ever famous boiled eggs. The boiled eggs in Jjimjilbang are different than the ordinary ones. You will know it when you eat it. Haha…… Note also that there are no beds, no blankets and no pillows in the sleeping area. There are sleeping mats provided and small cushions which you can use as a pillow.

The small store you can usually see in Jjimjilbang
Scene from the TV series: Legend of The Blue Sea
When you are inside the jjimjilbang, here are the DON’Ts that you must remember:

1. Don’t make an eye contact with other naked men inside the public bath.
2. Don’t leave your locker key anywhere, they usually put a band on every key, so wear it like a wrist band and make sure it never leaves your hands.
3. Don’t charge your phone at random outlets. There are designated outlets for charging, you must use it or else, it will be gone.
4. Don’t get too noisy in the sleeping area. People are trying to get some rest in the public place, so please respect.

After a one night stay, you can exit the jjimjilbang anytime you want the next day. Before going out, you must wear your regular clothes, make sure you pack all your belongings, then claim your shoes in the shoe locker, return the uniform at the counter and leave.

I can’t count now how many times I’ve been to Jjimjilbang but I’ve never been to a public bath with somebody I know. I am brave enough to go naked for as long as nobody knows me in the room. I guess I can’t do it with a friend or a family member or even just an acquaintance. I can’t! And I have no plans to put it on my bucket list.

1 comment:

  1. I've been in Korea for 20 years and have been to Jjimjilbangs in a few different cities with family and friends. 99% of this information is spot on. However, when getting washed they generally do NOT wash "down there."

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