It’s not often that I venture out of my neighbourhood for a massage, facial or the like, but when I was invited to try one very special treatment at Takapuna relaxation haven Ikoi Spa I made an exception.
When I arrived at the Huron Street destination I was instructed to remove my shoes at the door as per Japanese tradition, but it was also a little like drawing a line in the sand when it came to leaving the chaos of the outside world behind and entering a heavenly, super luxe, cosy space. To say that it was revelation would be an understatement – Ikoi puts the spas in many of our city’s five star hotels to shame.
The majorly exciting USP that I was lured there to experience is a Japanese enzyme bath, a therapeutic body treatment from Japan found nowhere else in New Zealand. Ikoi’s signature service, it uses a unique traditional method that combines nature and science. It involves a special blend of rice bran, pinewood sawdust and a special Japanese enzyme derived from organic fruits and vegetables grown in Hokkaido, Japan. This warming, dry spa is not only relaxing and tension releasing, but it also invigorates and softens skin. Ticks all the boxes then, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
The fermentation bathing ritual involves immersing your entire body in a mixture of soft and fragrant ground pinewood and rice bran that is enhanced with living enzymes that stimulate metabolic activity inside and out. Buried literally up to your neck in what feels like a warm sand pit, the feeling is a little weird to begin with but soon a total body relaxation begins to take over and you literally melt into the “bath”. The treatment offers myriad health benefits from improving circulation to relieving joint and muscle pain, and the living enzymes also reportedly deeply clean your skin. Unlike other modes of heat therapy like saunas, an enzyme bath works together with your body’s own processes, creating a unique synergy. Because the heat is generated biologically through fermentation, your body is able to absorb - rather than defend against - the warmth, allowing it to permeate your centre, charge your core organs, and stimulate healing from within. The whole time you are attended to by one of the spa’s therapists as well, helping keep your face cool and adjusting levels around your body according to how you feel. The sensation is one of being completely and utterly cared for, and the relaxation factor afterwards for me was totally profound.
From what I can tell, the first the first known modern enzyme bath was established in the 1940s in Hokkaido, Japan, but its history dates back centuries. In its contemporary form, it received international attention in 1972 when it was offered at the Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan as an opportunity for athletes to quickly recover from the stress of exertion. Over the past half century, many parts of Japan have adopted it, often in clinical environments that promote its therapeutic benefits.
Ikoi Spa Executive Manager Isabella Jin tells me when I am there that the practice is still quite unknown outside of Japan, but not so the enzymatic drink that you are given to sip before and after the treatment. Called Super Ohtaka Fermentation Health Drink, it has been around in Japan for over 90 years. It is created using a special cultivation method, using a unique selection and blend of all natural and organic fruits and vegetables. The formulation and fermentation technology are a result of science patented in Japan and the USA, where the plant extraction and fermentation method has been continuously passed through to this day.
My full experience at Ikoi was the Enzyme Spa Combo, which is a 130 minute treatment made up of a 60-minute Japanese enzyme spa followed by a 60-minute Shiatsu-style dry massage. This combo includes a Japanese enzyme drink prior to the treatment, as well as a 10-minute detox and relaxation time with Japanese tea and delicate Japanese sweets.
Isabella tells me that Ikoi have sole rights to the Japanese Enzyme Spa in New Zealand, so any new ones rolled out will be under their brand and management. The beautiful space also offers Thalgo facials and nail services, but nothing like waxing or the like as their focus is primarily on relaxation. Also, Isabella tells me that almost all of the therapists employed are Japanese and trained by a masseuse flown over from Japan for that purpose, meaning that “the Japanese way of relaxation is maintained at all times in the spa”.
Last but not least? Ikoi Spa is open seven days a week and until late, so busy people can come by after work or on weekends when many spas are closed. And my suggestion? Do so, and reap the benefits.