Eye Candy

The Art of the Japanese Bath

by Mark Edward Harris
Takimikan The view at Dai-ichi Takimotokan Hotel in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido. All photos by Mark Edward Harris.

Photographer Mark Edward Harris has traveled the world — 98 countries and counting — in the name of documentation, photographing everyday life in less-traversed destinations like North Korea and Iran. Most recently, his travels took him to Japan, where he literally immersed himself in hot springs for his book, The Way of the Japanese Bath (he is currently working on the third edition). We caught up with Mark to learn about his process.

JAPAN — My first onsen experience in Beppu, a town often shrouded in water vapor on the southern island of Kyushu, converted me into a furo-aholic (bath-aholic) in the early 1990s. Two decades later, I still find the magical waters an endless source of visual and visceral pleasure. I started taking a series of images in the film days, but am now working with state-of-the-art digital cameras, including the Leica X-U with a Summilux 23mm f/1.7 ASPH lens, which has opened up more opportunities for continuing my series. The under/overwater camera has allowed me to get tack-sharp images working around water without the need for underwater housing or fear of drowning my camera (something I've done three times in the course of my career). Here is a selection of images from my series, including a few from my most recent visits to Japan.

An onsen at Lamp no Yado ryokan in Aomori Prefecture.
Tamatsukuri Spa Yuuyu.
A view of Mt. Fuji from the Yurari Hot Spring in Yamanashi Prefecture.
The cascade bath at the Hyotan Onsen in Beppu, Kyushu.
The meditation bath at Hoshinoya Karuizawa, where the staff speaks English and the signage is geared towards international clientele.
The communal indoor bath at Hoshi Onsen Chojukan Ryokan in Gumma Prefecture.
A young Japanese macaque (snow monkey) in Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano Prefecture.
The main outdoor bath at Kita Ryokan in Tochigi Prefecture.
A tengu (heavenly dog) keeps watch over bathers at Kita Ryokan in Tochigi Prefecture.
A magnificent view of Japan's capital from the bath at the Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho Hotel.
A bather does yukimi (snow-gazing) at Takimikan Ryokan above the town of Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata Prefecture.
The women's bath at Kamenoi Besso in Yufuin, Kyushu.

Buy It

The Way of the Japanese Bath is available on amazon.com for $32.

More of Mark's Work


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