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Union bolthole to luxury spa: a Swedish trip

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Photo courtesy of Yasuragi.
09:13 CET+01:00
A Japanese spa's past as a Swedish union stronghold grants The Local's Katie Dodd an insight into Sweden's industrial journey while offering a calming antidote to multi-tasking city life.

Moon cake, massages, and as much sushi as you could ever hope for. It may sound like an exotic destination, but it’s just a 30-minute bus ride from central Stockholm. 

From the moment we entered the gates of this tranquil compound, we felt removed from the stressed hustle of city life. At Yasuragi, the staff attempt to set the experience to the guests' pace - and the slippers we received upon arrival didn’t make it easy to get anywhere too fast. The identical yukata cotton robe worked as a uniform, and we learned their secret - keep all your personals in the flowing sleeves.

“We worked a lot on how to lead guests into this state of calmness,” says spokeswoman Kersti Olophsdotter. “The idea with everyone wearing the same kind of yukata is to calm the senses, not giving the mind too many impressions. Another effect of this is that people may see something new in another person. You don’t judge others from the outset.”

The building which now houses Yasuragi was originally built in the 1970’s by Japanese architect named Yoji Kasajima. Kasajima was commissioned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, which needed a place to provide education to their members.

It is telling that the Sweden that fought its way to welfare and prosperity through the Swedish Model - the lauded cooperation of workers and industrialists - has created the country where luxury outfits such as Yasuragi exist and thrive. While far from affordable to all, the spa's mere existence is a reminder of Sweden's socio-economic climb since the Second World War. 

It wasn’t until 1997 that the Yasuragi spa was born, in its original state as a giant swimming pool. Today, it has been transformed and is constantly upgraded. Yasuragi’s 22,000 square metres extend along the water’s edge - coincidentally not far from where the Swedish Model was born, in Saltsjöbaden.

In 2014, however, the challenges of much of Sweden's highly educated workforce have changed somewhat. The majority of office workers use their brains as a ping-pong table, bouncing from smartphone to computer and back again. Yasuragi goes the distance in trying to get its visitors to switch off and turn their cerebral activity to the (sole) task at hand.

The hotel rooms at the complex follow the Japanese tradition of simplicity and clean lines, blending warm wood accents with fine stone tiling and rice paper screens. And the spa itself... Yasuragi propagates the traditional Japanese way of slow, deliberate washing as part of the bodily cleanse involving a small wooden stool and bucket - and patience, of course.

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Yasuragi is the Japanese word for inner peace and harmony, and the spa prides itself on making its guests feel at home. You don’t even have to bring a bathing suit - it’s provided when you walk in the door.

“The concept is that it should be simple to come without anything, just yourself,” explains Olophsdotter.

Katie Dodd

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