On first arrival into my Japanese apartment, I was a bit baffled with why the room where the bathtub was in was covered entirely with plastic; it was definitely not in the style of a western spa-like retreat decor. Only did I later find out (by asking a Japanese, of course) why things are the way I see it.
Ofuro, or the Japanese bath, is somewhat different than typical American baths. First of all, the layout of the bathroom is different than western styles. The toilet is in a separate room than the bathtub which is also separate from the handwashing sink. The bathing room is actually divided into 2 sections with the “shower area” when you first enter the room and the bath tub itself at the far end.
Usually, when you enter the bathing room, you first clean yourself in the “shower area” (while keeping the water-tight door closed so you can splash to your heart’s content). After you are nicely scrubbed, soaped, and cleaned, you can then enter into the bath tub waters for soaking and some R&R.
This water is kept quite hot, and the water is reused for the entire family (as it’s supposed to be clean anyways since you’re supposed to have showered prior to entering the bath waters).
Sounds neat, but I’m still in American-mode so have taken to putting up a shower curtain rod (that I hilariously brought with me as a carry-on item on the plane) + shower curtain and taking a shower in the bath tub instead. One day…