What is the appeal of thalassotherapy from France, which uses seawater to restore the body's mineral balance?
～Interview with Juand Yasko, President of the SPALOHAS Club, a French-Japanese association for the promotion of hot springs, thalassotherapy, and culture～
Well-being is a major issue for our society in the '100-year life' era. How to prevent illness and maintain good health. How to reduce stress and live with a sense of fulfillment. Consumers are increasingly focusing on well-being in their choice of travel destinations.
With a long tradition of 'health by water', France, a major destination for wellness tourism, has an abundance of thalassotherapy and thermal spa facilities offering a wide range of quality services.
We spoke to Juand Yasko, who, after working for many years at the French Embassy in Tokyo on French-Japanese relations, founded the SPALOHAS Club, a French-Japanese association for the promotion of hot springs, thalassotherapy, and culture, as he saw the potential for "well-being" in the exchange between French hot springs and thalassotherapy and the deep Japanese spa culture.
● Table of contents
● What is 'thalassotherapy'?
－Was thalassotherapy originally a medical treatment covered by health insurance?
Yes. Thalassotherapy in France used to be in the same category as onsen therapy and was covered by health insurance. Onsen therapy is still covered by health insurance if the conditions are met, but due to financial problems caused by the same low birthrate and aging population as in Japan, health insurance coverage for thalassotherapy was discontinued in 1998.
Thalassotherapy has since evolved into a popular wellness tourism destination, exploring and responding to the demanding needs of French consumers.
－How exactly is seawater used in "thalassotherapy"?
When seawater is heated to 33-36°C, close to body temperature, the mineral components of seawater are more easily absorbed into the body. Thalassotherapy uses this warmed seawater to perform various treatments.
There are jet baths and infusions, in which warm seawater drips over the entire body from above while lying on a bed, and standing treatments, in which a shower of seawater with high water pressure is taken over the entire body, including the soles of the feet, palms, and neck. Seaweed or sea mud is also used as a packing agent. These treatments are combined for about 12-20 minutes each, depending on the purpose.
It is not enough to simply warm up the body; a meticulous technique based on years of accumulated experience is required. Aromas, scrubs based on local salt, and light effects that engage the five senses are just a few examples of the know-how accumulated over the years in French thalassotherapy.
The buoyancy and resistance of the water are greater than that of fresh water in a pool heated by salty seawater, and the seawater pool, heated to a temperature close to the body temperature of 33-36°C, is "dead-temperature," allowing visitors to simply float around on floating sticks, walk while stretching to their heart's content, or enjoy the massage effect of the pressure inside (jets).
● The benefits of 'thalassotherapy'
－What are the benefits of thalassotherapy for the body?
According to Dr. Pérèse Siscard, advisor to our association, president of the French Thalassotherapy Union, and owner of the thalassotherapy center "Coté Thalasso," the first basic principle is to "help balance the minerals in the body. When doctors and staff of thalassotherapy centers in France are asked about the benefits of thalassotherapy, they all share the common understanding that thalassotherapy "helps to restore the mineral balance in the body, especially by supplying trace elements.
Mineral imbalance in the body can lead to physical disorders and, if left untreated further, to illness. In thalassotherapy, minerals, especially trace elements, which cannot be produced in the body, are taken in through the skin and breath. In addition, the pleasant stimulation provided by the "blessings of the sea" gives a deep sense of relaxation to both the body and mind.
● French-style, 'thalassotherapy' experience
－What kind of thalassotherapy courses are available in French facilities?
Reflecting the stressful society we live in these days, courses such as "Burn Out," "Wellness," "Refresh," "Sleep Well," and "Diet" are common at all centers. There are also "blood circulation promotion" courses to relieve swollen feet, "men's" courses, "maman & bebe" courses, and care that focuses on quality of life, such as care after cancer treatment, showing glimpses of what was originally a medical practice.
There are many fun discoveries for us Japanese. We often encounter "Japon" in French wellness places. For example, the "Zen Course. Of course, it is not Zen meditation (laughs). Japanese Zen has an image of enhancing spirituality, and this course is designed to help you relax your mind and body in a calm and relaxing environment.
In my own experience, the person himself was most surprised that I was really able to quit smoking after taking the 7-day smoking cessation support course. It is very difficult to elucidate the relationship between seawater and smoking cessation, but I am certain that it was realistic and effective, and that is the most important thing (although there are individual differences, so I cannot say that it is universally effective).
● Do you have any advice for those who would like to try "thalassotherapy" in France?
Thalassotherapy treatments can be experienced individually, but some people have expressed disappointment when choosing the cheapest option without knowing which treatment would be best for them, only to end up with a mechanical bed and no other services.
The SPALOHAS Club, of which I am the president, has been conducting experience coverage in France for many years and has been able to establish partnerships with centers that offer high-quality thalassotherapy and are also interested in Japan. If you go there, please contact us and we will be happy to suggest a thalassotherapy program that meets your needs.
The affiliated centers are located in areas that are very popular tourist destinations.
For example, the Thermes-Marins de Saint-Malo in Brittany on the Atlantic coast is about 2 hours and 14 minutes from Paris by TGV. The World Heritage Site of Mont Saint-Michel is about 55 km away, and buses are also available. Saint-Malo, a former pirate town and an old fortress, is a favorite of the French, and is recommended for its delicious crepe shops, cafes, restaurants, and cute knick-knack shops in the fortress.
Cote Thalasso Banyuls-sur-Mer in the south of France is a beautiful town with many nature reserves, located along the Mediterranean Sea at the easternmost tip of the Pyrenees Mountains, near the border with Spain. The town offers a unique Catalan culture, rich soil and terroir, wine, olive oil, honey, and other delicacies! The city is also well located for visiting tourist attractions, such as the small port town of Collioure, where Dufy, Matisse, and Picasso stayed; Rocamador, a World Heritage site famous for its Black Mary statue, also in Oxytany, and Figueras, Dali's hometown, on the Spanish side of the city. Barcelona, where Gaudi's world unfolds, is only about two hours away, making it possible to take a day trip there.
The corporation also has a partnership with a very reputable language school in Montpellier, in the south of France. If you want to brush up on your French as well as experience thalassotherapy! If you want to improve your French as well as experience thalassotherapy, you can book a package of thalassotherapy and language school at Côte Thalasso.
With the Rugby World Championships in 2023 and the Paris Olympics in 2024, France has many global events coming up. Why not take this opportunity to experience authentic thalassotherapy as a new French "experiential wellness travel"?
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■ The person we have spoken with
General Incorporated Association Nippon-France Hot Springs, Thalassotherapy, and Cultural Promotion Association SPALOHAS Club, Representative Director Ms. Yasuko Juando.
After conducting market research at the (then) Economic Affairs Department of the French Embassy in Japan, he became aware that hot springs and the sea would be beneficial in the "era of super low birthrate and aging society" and set up his own business in 2005.
She has continued to cover the largest spa in France, including the mayor of Dax, and was the first to introduce "French Onsen Therapy and Health Insurance" in Japan. With the aim of complementing each other through hot spring innovation in France and hot spring culture exchange in Japan, he has partnered with doctors, specialists, and facilities in Japan and France to educate and support the experience.
The Bungotakada City Beach Project in Oita Prefecture, Japan, supervises the health tourism core and converts French know-how into a Japanese style. The city received the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism's "Regional Development Award Review Board Special Prize" in 2021 and the Cabinet Office's (Sacred Place for Lovers) "Regional Revitalization Award, Tourism Agency Director-General's Prize" for this project.
Introduced Japanese thalassotherapy and hot spring culture at the "Sea and Health" Symposium in Biarritz (2013).
Received the "Honorary Award for French Spa Therapy" from CNETh, the largest association of thermal therapy facilities in France (2014).
Participated as a panelist in the "World Hot Springs Summit - Medical, Health, and Beauty Subcommittee" (2018) and "Vichy Japan - Japan-France Hot Springs Round Table Conference" (2021), among others.
A member of the Japan Hot Spring Area Studies Association.
Serves as a committee member for the Oita Hot Spring Information Exchange (appointed by Oita Prefecture).