Hot rocks: Japanese enthusiasts turn sauna volume up to 11

SOT heavy metal sauna at Sauna Fest Nagano 2019, Japan / Credit: Ari Honkanen

Sauna enthusiasts in Japan are blasting away the notion of a traditional Finnish sauna as a quiet place to relax and contemplate the steam of life, by playing heavy metal music.

The heavy metal sauna was featured at Japan Sauna Fest recently, an event which brought together sauna enthusiasts over a three day period in Nagano to test 19 different types of sauna experiences.

“Finnish lifestyle and culture are making big influence here especially among young generations. Indeed it was the biggest ever Sauna Fest so far in Japan” explains Numata Koichi from Business Finland, one of the supporters of the Sauna Fest.

The heavy metal sauna was set up by enthusiasts SOT – which stands for counting in the “Sauna, One to Thousand” – lead by ‘Mohican Saunist‘ who combines his passion for Finland, sauna and heavy metal music in blog posts, and visit reports from saunas an public baths visits across Japan.

“According to SOT, this was the first trial to play Finnish heavy metal as background music at its tent sauna. They wanted to differentiate its booth from other saunas to be creative and one of a kind” explains Koichi.

Sauna-goers got to listen to classic Finnish heavy metal from Children of Bodom, Korpiklaani, Maniac Abductor, Nuclear Winter, Impaled Nazarene and others while enjoying the steam inside the SOT sauna tent.

“When they were contemplating and brainstorming for an idea, it was a natural and simple inspiration one day that their minds and chain of thoughts got connected sauna, Finland, heavy metal music, why not!” says Numata Koichi.

“Feedback from the visitors was very positive, like feeling good and hotter than other saunas, and great mix of sauna and music, such a unique experience” he adds.

Japan’s love of Finnish heavy metal 

The heavy metal sauna tent capitalised on a hard core affection from Japanese fans for Finnish rock music.

“Finnish heavy metal has been popular in Japan for a long time as well, and the tradition is doing well still today” explains Ari Honkanen from the Finnish Embassy in Tokyo.

Bands like Stam1na and Korpiklaani tour Japan from time to time, and there’s a popular Finnish heavy metal festival every spring. Finnish music legend Michael Monroe visited Japan earlier this year to play festivals in Tokyo and Osakan in front of thousands of people, and dedicated fans can still sing HIM and Nightwish in Japan’s karaoke rooms.

“Still, Sibelius is the biggest Finnish artist in Japan” Honkanen concedes.

Finland’s sauna steam culture is big in Japan 

Japanese culture embraces hot springs and steam baths, so it’s quite a nice fit with Finnish sauna as well, and the 3500 people who applied for Sauna Fest tickets this year – with just 600 places available – were a testament to this.

“I have heard the first Finnish sauna came to Tokyo during the Olympics in 1964 and was set up in the athlete’s village, but I haven’t been able to confirm this” says diplomat Ari Honkanen.

“Nowadays, you can find a sauna of some sort in many onsens (natural hot springs) and sentos (public bath) around Japan” he explains.

Visit Finland is running a competition for Japanese tourists to collect stamps at public saunas when they come to Finland, to ultimately name 100 Finnish Sauna Ambassadors to promote sauna culture.

Honkanen says at Sauna Fest in Nagano, the löylö inside the SOT heavy metal tent was very good, hot and moist.

But far from home, it was the peace and quiet of a very different type of sauna which appealed to the diplomat most.

“The best sauna of the festival in my opinion was this underground smoke sauna with a massive stove of perhaps one ton in total weight.”

Underground smoke sauna at Sauna Fest Nagano 2019 / Credit: Ari Honkanen