And I don’t mean that in the way parents wrangle children into cleanliness as they try to escape. In Japan they seem to value baths, and it can be seen in the way that the bathrooms are structured to always include the bathtub with the shower and the easily found bath salts and “bath bombs” in drugstores. I also noted that there are a large number of Lush stores, more than I had ever seen while I was in California.
In an anthropology class that I recently took here, we discussed the term, skinship. Here, parents bathe with their children when they are young versus bathing children as it is usually in the U.S. The purpose of this is to strengthen the relationship between parent and child. And this concept of skinship can be seen also in the way that strollers are not as common as parents toting their babies around in carriers strapped around their front.
On the other hand, this translates to a very foreign experience for me. I couldn’t leave Japan without visiting an onsen which is like the equivalent to a hot spring. I would say it is one of the defining characteristics of Japan since I had always wanted to go to one before coming here, and as a country near much tectonic activity, Japan has many onsen. Furthermore, it emphasizes Japan’s fondness for baths since after a brisk shower to clear off any impurities, people sit and rest in these baths. (In addition, Japan also has public bath houses called sento.) People pay good money for onsen and sento. I mean, I think most people in the U.S. just take a bubble bath at home instead of paying. That being said, I am a little in love with onsen now. But that was after I got over the paralyzing terror that I would have to expose my nudity to complete strangers and my friend, although they were all female since most places are separated by gender. I don’t think I’m the only one out there with that initial sentiment. I had thought that I could keep my towel on me the whole time, and let it be known that swimwear is not permitted. Then I realized that the towel I was given was only for drying off.
Sooo…when in Rome, right? I bucked up my courage and went for it. Kudos to the Japanese for feeling comfortable with themselves to not be self-conscious. There is no staring or awkwardness because we’re all the same, and if anything, I came out with a confidence boost. I figured I shouldn’t be concerned about it since it was my body, and I should be okay with what I was born with. Body-shaming has always been a pretty important issue, and I liked how it didn’t matter how old you were or what size. You could go in there and just enjoy yourself without judgment, and that is exactly what my friend and I did. After awhile, the discomfort of being exposed evaporated. It was just so peaceful, relaxing in the hot water and stepping out to cool off on stone or wood benches while chatting quietly. It was the perfect way to decompress after my finals.
Ladies and gents, my personal recommendation is to definitely try it. There is such a good feeling afterwards, and I am completely on board with the Japanese in regards to onsen.