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Posted March. 10, 2010 04:43,   


Japan has such an advanced bathing culture, one naturally thinks of “hot springs” upon hearing the country’s name. In Japan, a person takes a bath for about 30 minutes before going to bed. Because of the lack of heating at Japanese homes, one has to warm up to be able to fall asleep comfortably. In Finland, one in every two homes has a sauna, and one in every eight households in the provinces does, too. Upon returning home from an outing, a person warms up his or her cold body with hot steam. When a guest visits, the host family’s couple takes a bath together with the guest in a gesture of hospitality. Warming up the body with hot steam before walking on a snowy path or jumping into frozen water increases the fun in the Finnish style of sauna.

In Germany or Switzerland, a father and his grownup daughter might enter a sauna together, something that would be embarrassing for Koreans, who live in a country where gender divisions are clearly separate. In Korea, village public baths started to disappear after the majority of people began to live in apartments. Public saunas have started to gain popularity, however. These days, it is very common for people to gather at a jjimjil-bang (sauna parlor) and hwangto-bang (yellow earth sauna parlor). At traditional public baths, men and women are separated. In a hwangto-bang, men and women wear light clothing but their resting sites are not separate and are obscure. Korean public saunas might have started to model themselves after their German counterparts.

The University of Padova in Italy has released a study suggesting that sperm count was halved in 10 young men who went to a sauna 15 minutes each twice a week for three months. Sperm is reproduced when body temperature below the waist remains lower than that in other parts of the body by about two degrees. Scientists, however, say the reproductive system deteriorates amid high body temperatures. This will not likely prove a cause for major concern, however. Researchers said the reproductive system will not be permanently damaged and will recover once the men stop bathing in saunas.

In the distant past, Koreans used to let boys take off their pants to make them feel comfortable at low temperatures. Japanese parents used to let their children wear pants and short skirts without underclothes even in the cold winter season. The practice was meant to make their children strong. Even without an experiment like the one at the University of Padova, those parents might have recognized the relationship between body temperature below the waist and sperm count through life experiences. A Korean proverb says, “The weather is as hot as the ox’s extended scrotum,” an expression used to describe the scorching summer weather. That is, even an ox sought to lower the temperature of its reproductive organ to maintain its regenerative functions. The Padova experiment is not the first case where science has traced and proved principles of nature.

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)