World Sauna Jouney | 世界サウナ旅 by METOS | UNESCO無形…後編英語
page,page-id-18117,page-template,page-template-full_width-php,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.3.4,vc_responsive

Sho Yoshinaga Report
A journey to experience the Estonian sauna culture

We’re going to take a glimpse of the Estonian smoke sauna culture, which has been inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

@ Võru, Estonia / October, 2015

  • Sauna experience
    the real story behind the Estonian smoke sauna

Moi! I’m Sho Yoshinaga.
This time I’m going to tell you about Estonian smoke sauna tradition,
which was inscribed in 2014 on the Representative List of the
Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Are you too curious to find out what it is like?
Also, why Estonian sauna culture and not Finnish?
I’m now going to summarize some of the most interesting parts from my journey!

Estonian smoke sauna culture belongs to
the same cultural sphere as the other Baltic Sea countries,
but if compared to Finland,
it feels somehow slightly different.
This visit is going to be fun!


In Võru it’s customary to make a small artificial lake to the premises.

The story until the inscription as Intagible Cultural Heritage

We arrived to Mooska Farm in Võru, Estonia to experience the smoke saunas and from Ms. Eda Veeroja we were able to hear the whole story how they managed to inscribe the smoke saunas as Intagible Cultural Heritage.

“The reason why we became active to preserve smoke sauna culture is that is plays a role in our identity, and because the smoke saunas had started to diminish in this region.”

“It happened back in 2009, on vernal equinox, which is a special holiday in Estonia. The farming families of this area had gathered together to have a sauna event. Later we were in a sauna together with my father and we started thinking: “we should inscribe this splendid sauna culture as Intangible Cultural Heritage”.


The untold story up to inscription

I imagined that the inscription must have been strenuous, and so I asked Eda to explain concretely what it was like.

“First, I sent a mail to Unesco to let them know that we’d like to inscribe the Võru smoke sauna culture. When the answer came, I was let known of the procedures what it actually took. During the following two months I contacted over 100 people and at that time I met Ms. Epp Margna, a local artist, and Ms. Külli Eichenbaum, who worked at a governmental agency. Us three started having more and more meetings together and I guess that how the active pursue towards our common goal, the inscription, started.”

“After that, things started to gather speed quickly. We utilized Epp’s paintings and photographs and made a movie and a book, among other things. I started to feel that after releasing them, the awareness of the people in this area started to change. The awareness to protect the Võru style sauna culture rose everywhere in the region. People started to prefer the traditional chimneyless smoke sauna over the more modern style sauna with chimneys.”

” Four years passed. In 2013 we received the consent from the Estonian cabinet minister, which was required for the application. Also the personnel of the Finnish embassy, who hold sauna culture in a high value cooperated with us, and finally in 2014 November the inscription to the Unesco list became reality.”

Eda told us smiling happily and continued: “What we are proud of, is that we didn’t inscribe only the smoke sauna culture, but we included also the knowledge and the spiritual beliefs that are being handed down to the next generations in this region.”

The development from now on

We also got to hear their opinions regarding the development from now on.

“From now on, we’ve taken four tasks: First, to do promotion to spread the knowledge of our culture; Second, to utilize and combine tourism and other businesses into tune with the knowledge we have; Third, we’ll study thoroughly the Võru sauna culture in tune with the ethnological studies; And fourth, we’re planning to start cooperation with the local kindergartens in order to teach the children about our sauna culture; with these four task, we’re also hoping to contribute to Estonian tourism resources .”

Eda and the rest of the sauna actives still continues to strive to relay the local traditions to the future generations.


And finally! Experiencing the Estonian sauna first hand at Mooska Farm, Eda’s home.

After finishing the talks, we were granted an opportunity to experience the Estonian smoke saunas first hand. Before sauna Eda asked us: “would you rather experience the holy ritual sauna, during which you wouldn’t be allowed to photograph or talk or just relax in the sauna together, talk freely and enjoy?”. Of course we chose the holy ritual sauna.

Sacred ritual smoke sauna

Before entering Eda-san tied a red string to our wrists to symbolically purify the unclean and said to us: “When you are in the sauna, try not to ponder on trivial or unnecessary things and try to empty your mind as much as you can”.

We will not reveal the details in this article, but after that we experienced the ritual sauna and four cooldowns. In the sauna we rubbed salt to our skin to symbolically brush away the evil. The sauna bathing included many ritual elements and we also experienced löyly and vihta, massaging with honey oil and many other elements of Estonian sauna. In the sauna we were wrapped in the sound of Eda-san’s shaman drum and songs and it was a bathing experience in one could sense the tradition and spirituality of the Võru people.

By the way, it seems that every family have their own sauna ceremonies which are handed down from generation to the next. However, these rituals are treasured very highly and they are not revealed to outsiders.


This was an experience through which  I could
sense the traditions of the Võru people.
I’m so happy to find this new side of the leisure of sauna!


A visit to the holy places

On the last day of our visit, Eda-san took us to a place which they called “a holy place”. In the olden times, people used set a holy place when they migrated to a new area and based on this idea this was set to be theirs.

The holy place was a group of trees grown in a form of a circle. The atmosphere was quite mysterious. In the middle several large stones formed an offertory. We also met a local shaman who taught us: “When you touch these stones and the soil, make a prayer and inside your heart ask for something. After that, tie a red string to a branch of one of the surrounding trees”. “When my own daughter was born, I came here to pray that she would be a beautiful child. And look how pretty she is!” he told us showing us her picture and smiling happily. “The most important thing in this place”, he said, “is that one makes a prayer of a right kind”.

When we were departing from the holy place, we found a smoke sauna which the owners were preparing to be used later that day. We started our way back to Japan thinking that maybe the holiest of the holy places for the Võru people is one’s own smoke sauna.

Eda-san playing her shaman drum. She sang the same song in the sauna.

This was such a wonderful trip!
I could see and feel the way of
thinking and beliefs of our hosts.
The world of sauna is deep indeed!
I love sauna so much!!


Without a form, without a shadow

Should intangible culture seem unfit to preset, it becomes an object of rejection or reformation. Sometimes it might diminish entirely. Sauna has also changed its character during the course of time. That is why it was truly a magnificent experience to try an old and time-honored sauna style like this.

I thought that indeed the aim of being acknowledged in the Unesco List of Intangible Cultural Heritage is not just to pass on manners or customs in the context of smoke saunas but also to pass on the idea of hospitality to guests, beliefs and gratitude to nature.

I truly admire the wonderful Võru smoke sauna culture and the wonderful way they pass on this knowledge. This trip has made me see also the Japanese sauna culture in a new light and to realize that it is too is an invaluable part of the world’s bathing cultures.


Profile: Show Yoshinaga


CEO of Metos Inc.

Sho Yoshinaga who is the CEO of Metos Inc. was born in Fukuoka. He has learned the importance of making harmonious coexistence with nature as a boy scout in his youth. His career started as a mechanic in the air force of the Japanese Self-defense Forces, and had often taken sauna together with his colleagues, which gave impetus for understanding the charm of sauna.

After working for the air force, he had been working as a sales person in apparel industry and interior lighting industry.

Since 1998 he has been working for Metos Inc., with his creativity and the various experiences while taking advantage of having the know-how of former Nakayama-Sangyo (Metos Inc. previous name).

He has been making Metos’s business bigger and bigger, and nowadays there’re 6 branches and over 100 contracted dealers all over Japan.

Sho’s always trying to do his best to vigor the Japanese bathing culture, and to advocating new ways to enjoy saunas.

For example, in order to promote the word “löyly” into Japanese spa industry, he has introduced to Japan, previously unknown sauna heaters, such as iki-sauna and Sauna-isness (gas heaters which are löyly-durable).

His recent interest is to combine sauna and entertainment/outdoor activities, and one of his project “Neppa-tai (Löyly performance group)” became popular, and last year, he released tent sauna trailer sauna, and log sauna for the enjoyable experience outdoor.

Born in Fukuoka prefecture. Member of the board of Metos Inc. Full name: Shoichirou Yoshinaga.


Profile: Mikko Palander


Born and raised in Leivonmäki, a small village in Central Finland with abundant amount of lakes and forest, but hardly anything else. In his youth, used to cycle more than 10 kilometers a day after school to visit closest living friends, which gave impetus to his long lasting interest in muscle training. When in middle school, helped his father and local carpenters in building a sauna cottage with a guest room to family’s back yard, has also experience in installing a sauna stove. After enrolling to university of Jyväskylä, started to learn Japanese while studying Asian history and spent one academic year 2012-2013 as an exchange student in Kanazawa University, Japan. In spite of having lived in Kanazawa, speaks in Kansai dialect.  Dedicates himself to various martial arts, such as judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At present, operates from Finland as Metos Inc. EU Business Development Coordinator, conducts the coordination of the company on-site visits, interpretation and translation etc.


Mooska Farm


<Address>Võrumaa, Haanja vald, Haanja, 65601, Estonia

<Tel> +372-(0)503-2341