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Dear Alice,

On my first trip to Japan, my host took me to an up-market hot-springs resort on the island of Awajishima. There I was introduced to a small tiled “box” within the large soaking tub. I noticed there were small panels along the sides, but didn’t think anything of it until I entered the water and felt as if I’d been zapped with a cattle prod — an electric current was running through the water! After my initial horror, I discovered the sensation was tolerable as long as I remained in the middle of the space. I have since seen a similar bath in Kyoto. So, what the heck is this and what is its purpose?

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