Since the Edo period (from the 17th to the 19th century), the ‘art’ of communal bathing in mineral-rich hot springs – known as onsen – has been at the heart of Japanese culture. These days, there are thousands across the country, with some, such as Aman’s sublime version at Amanemo, found in luxury resorts. While, for a true authentic experience, you can’t beat a traditional ryokan, such as Nishimuraya Honkan – founded some 150 years ago, to try the ancient practice.
These ryokan – or age-old inns – offer holistic retreats, often in idyllic rural or mountain settings, so it might seem strange that London’s latest addition to its wellness scene is a new collection of treatments inspired by these very-same customs.
Found in the lower-ground floor of Harrods, Decorté – Japan’s luxury skincare range – has just launched a collection of ‘Onjun Rituals’, based on the philosophy of the practice of onsen. Taken in a cocooning treatment room, which has been designed to give a nod to the pared-back authentic wooden inns, with tatami-mat flooring and bonsai trees, the rituals all combine a holistic approach, connecting mind and body, and have at their heart a signature scalp massage which enhances ‘onjun’ – or the circulation of warmth, which is what happens after visiting an onsen spa.
Here, Masaki Kosugi, European regional director at KOSÉ Corporation, the company which owns Decorté, reveals more about what onjun is and why this is an important first for London.
What is the philosophy of onjun?
In Japan, there is a saying that ‘cold is the root of all illness’. Cold has been shown as one of the key causes of the reduction in immunity in the body. The philosophy of onjun (translating literally as ‘circulation of warmth’) is based on drawing out the warmth that the body needs, stimulating the stagnant flow of blood, which lymphatic drainage then smoothly removes, so it can circulate freely and breathe new life into each and every cell.
The experiences have been created exclusively for Harrods – why this partnership and why the UK?
We wanted an element of exclusivity around the onjun treatments and, there’s no doubt that Harrods offers that.
Onjun has a multitude of benefits and can resolve chills, increase immunity, stimulate metabolism, reduce fatigue and beautify the skin. It can be particularly beneficial in a British climate, where you can often experience ‘four seasons in one day’, and the continual changes in temperature and atmosphere can lead to poor circulation and cause ‘cold’ within the body.
The Japanese visit onsen baths regularly to experience onjun. For the UK, Decorté has developed a specific massage technique that gives these same benefits without the need for an immersive water treatment, so it is particularly unique.
How does the Decorté space in Harrods reflect Japanese culture in its design?
The interior design studio, Design Tank, was given the task to design the Harrods’ Decorté Treatment Room. Blending Japanese minimalism with Harrods’ premium levels of luxury gives an instantly-Instagrammable room, with moving digital waterfalls, created by using a mix of light boxes and integrated video screens.
Overall, the space offers clients a haven of tranquillity, drawing on the Japanese pared-back aesthetic. With peaceful muted tones, calming natural materials and the image wall, it instantly transports guests to a cocooning place of calm.
How is onjun incorporated in the treatments?
All the treatments incorporate rituals to enhance onjun, but at the heart of all of them is a unique scalp massage. Said to have the same effect as a full body massage, a scalp massage not only improves circulation to the head, it also simultaneously increases blood flow to the brain, the ‘control tower’ for the health of the entire body.
Activating the brain increases the onjun of the body and maximises the effects of the overall treatment. Other benefits include helping to increase concentration and better mental balance, as the frontal lobe is stimulated, as well as giving a relaxing effect, as the centre of the nervous system is treated. Scalp massage also slows an ‘overworking brain’, increasingly prevalent in this world of constant digital overload.
What are the four different rituals?
The Decorté AQ Meliority range is used in all four Harrods treatment rituals. It is inspired by regenerative medicine’s approach to cell renewal and helps to awaken the skin’s ability to self-regenerate and recapture youth.
The Decorté label is a signature brand from Japanese beauty company, KOSÉ Corporation, and it was launched after 50 year’s of research, collaborating with Nobel Prize-winning scientists. The idea was to create a technically-advanced product line, which is infused with natural elements, such as onsen geo-thermal volcanic water.
All the therapies capture this ‘know-how’. Firstly, there is the Essential Ritual, which at 35 minutes, is the most simple of the line-up of treatments, and combines an express facial with the head massage.
The Luxury Ritual has a more intense facial massage, while the Signature Infusion Ritual combines a facial and head massage and bespoke mask. Finally, the Ultimate Lift Ritual – lasts for 90 minutes – and uses onjun-enhancing head, face and hand massages, a unique cleansing technique using a brush and a thermal mask. It helps improve metabolism and vitality, and leaves the face looking more youthful and sculpted.
What other typically Japanese cultural elements can visitors to the space expect?
They can expect the Japanese spirit of omotenashi hospitality, which is a concept that originated in the Japanese tea ceremony ritual. The word omotenashi means ‘to have no front or back’, and refers to welcoming guests with a sincere heart. This starts with the therapist welcoming the guest to a space of zen, calm, peace and tranquility.
How would you define J-Beauty?
J-Beauty encompasses the products, the routine, the ingredients, innovative research and the concepts rooted from centuries of Japanese tradition.
Why do you think there is a growing interest in treatments and wellness originating from Japan?
In Japan, traditional wellness practices are simply a way of life and we believe this holistic approach brings great benefits, which many are searching for and which the West is adopting.
What is the philosophy of the KOSÉ Corporation?
It is all about ‘creating beauty in a sustainable world’. We want to create beauty products, which are desirable, yet still protect the future of the Earth. Its mission is for all its brands to use cosmetics as a way of bringing joy and peace of mind, and to help achieve a fulfilling life.
Where in Japan can travellers expect to find a typical onjun experience?
As one of the prominent volcanic countries, with about 10% of the world’s active volcanoes, Japan is blessed with many natural hot springs. When speaking of hot springs, many people are likely to imagine the ones near a volcano or in a volcanic area, with boiling water and steam coming out. However, while volcanoes can cause natural disasters, such as eruptions and ash-fall, they also provide many benefits such as clean water and beautiful scenery, as well as ejecta that could be effectively used as resources – such as the Japanese onsen hot springs.
Onsen baths have been popular among Japanese people since ancient times – evidence of these have even been found in ruins from the Jomon period, dating back some 6,000 years. Resorts and towns have developed around hot springs, along with a food culture that makes use of local ingredients.
There are types of onsen, which are referred to as Bijin no Yu, that specialise in the effects of beautifying the skin. Many women and men visit them in the hope of achieving flawless skin, as well as purifying the mind and the body. Some natural baths have fine, mineral-rich volcanic ash and mud components; others, which are acidic, provide an exfoliation effect, while those with carbonic acid help to improve blood circulation, leading to healthy skin. Japanese aficionados often travel around the country and enjoy Bijin no Yu in the pursuit of beautiful skin. It’s what we can now offer at the Decorté room in Harrods.
The Decorté Rituals are available at Harrods Beauty Events & Services, Lower Ground Floor, London SW1, Thursday to Saturday.