Bathing and Social Bonds
Even to this day a son going to the neighborhood mokyoktang (public bath) with one’s father (or a daughter with her mother) is considered a familial honor and even duty. In fact, almost any Korean can share fond memories and vivid recollections of growing up and regular trips to the baths with their mom or dad. This applies to friendships too. This social phenomena has grown in recent years with jjimjilbangs now a popular date activity for couples. This can be seen in the many jjimjilbang scenes in various Korean dramas. Step inside any jjimjilbang today, and you’ll see it’s one of the few places where people of all ages and background come together.
It should be noted that though the two are sometimes confused together, a ‘jjimjilbang’ is not the same as a public bath. ‘Mokyoktangs’ are the general, gender-separated public baths which ARE found within most jjimjilbangs. Jjimjilbangs are the heated rooms and kiln saunas with different properties (clay, salt, charcoal, etc) and for all genders (wearing provided clothing) where people go to relax, sweat, and socialize. All jjimjilbangs will have mokyoktangs but not all mokyoktangs have jjimjilbangs.
Paying, Storing, and Changing:Once you enter the jjimjilbang, you’ll find the ticket counter. You may be asked if you want to take a bath only (목욕 or “mokyok”) or do the full jjimjil + bath experience. Just let them know you want to do the full jjimjil and bath. After you pay, the attendant will usually give you three things:
- Your set of jjimjil clothes. Usually a t-shirt and shorts made of cotton. Depending on the jjimjilbang, the clothes may all be a free size or they may carry different sizes. If they do carry different sizes, unless you specify, the attendant will usually size you up with a glance and give whatever seems the best fit. It may sound like a lie, but almost all jjimjilbang uniform colors are the colors below.
- The locker key is electronic and has your number written on it and a stretchy band attached to it. DO NOT LOSE THIS KEY. Not only will you be charged if you lose it but whoever finds your lost key can easily open your locker and steal your belongings. Additionally, in most jjimjilbangs,
These keys are “smart” keys meaning they are embedded with a chip inside that records into their master system for any payments on food, beverages, supplies, and services you choose to get (more on this later). The stretchy band attached to the key is there so you can wear it around your wrist or ankles in the jjimjilbang section as well as the baths (the keys are water, heat, and sweat proof).
In the changing room, some jjimjilbangs have a separate cubby for your shoes. Simply go to the shoe cubby that matches the number on your cubby/locker number paper. Take your key and place it into your shoe cubby, it should make a small beep alerting you that it’s been opened, and turn the key. Place your shoes inside, close the cubby (it should make a beep sound again to show it’s locked), and make sure the cubby is locked. If the jjimjilbang doesn’t have a separate show cubby section, take your shoes off at the changing room entrance and bring them to your locker.
The Jjimjil Rooms:
There are usually a few jjimjil rooms of varying temperature degrees with rooms usually having some sort of special attribute or feature. Examples include salt rooms with heated salt rocks, charcoal rooms, jade rooms, clay rooms, and more. Each of the rooms and their unique properties are said to hold specific health and beauty effects in everything from digestive to circulatory issues.
(A salt room, wood kiln room with aromatic herbs and medicine room, Ice room, he hottest rooms of any jjimjilbang)
Fueling Up on Snacks and Food
A jjimjilbang will almost always have at least a small snack corner where you can pick up on snacks and beverages. And remember your locker room key which should be around your wrist or ankle. Many jjimjilbangs have a smart key system which means not only do the keys work on opening and closing your locker but they can also be used to track any purchases made for food, beverages, supplies, and other services.
Simply order what you want, hand the attendant your key, and they’ll use it to make a record of all your purchases. Later, after bathing and heading out, they’ll scan your key and tell you can pay.