photos by Yosuke Ohtake courtesy Sauna Ikitai
Saunas have been picking up steam in Japan for the last several years. From immersive art saunas to in-home saunas, the cottage industry has seen numerous innovations to make the hot and steamy experience accessible to all. One of the latest initiatives combines sustainability with saunas by refurbishing out-of-service public buses and transforming them into mobile saunas that can travel Japan.
The Sabus, as it’s called , is a project launched by Sauna Ikitai, a start-up focused on promoting saunas and all their health benefits. The company teamed up with Tokyo and Osaka-based architecture firm OSTR to renovate and retrofit old buses so that they function as saunas.
Rather than reviving the bus to a shiny, new state, the architects focused on retaining much of the old-school charm that the bus had. And by making small updates to the seating and handles, they managed to create a unique experience that feels somewhere in between a bus ride and a visit to the sauna.
The architects also described some of the challenges in renovating a bus as opposed to an existing home or office. Rather than design to architectural and building standards, this space was mobile. It would sway and bump up and down as it traversed the roads and highways of Japan. What’s more, it had to pass a vehicle inspection too.
But it turned out that the structure of the bus was fairly conducive to saunas. For one thing, the tight and narrow space maintained heat well. And the steps in the back created a height differential that allowed certain seatings to be warmer than others.
But perhaps the greatest advantage lies in its mobility. As the Sabus moves from location to location, users have an opportunity to experience a one-of-a-kind sauna that is at times in the middle of a bustling city, while other times in the deep quiet of the mountains.