I have seen enough naked Japanese women to last me a lifetime.
Japan is full of onsen–a public baths that are fed by the thousands of hot springs caused by the country’s volcanic activity. Onsen range from elegant outdoors affairs tucked into mountain resorts to scruffier city versions.
Husband promoted the idea of visiting an onsen on our recent trip to Japan. I assumed it involved putting on your bathing suit and getting in a hot tub–albeit a very large hot tub–with other women.
We found our onsen on a side road in Gero. Between us and the proprietress , we spoke about six words of each other’s language, but we managed to convey our desire for a bath. We also had to pay for soap and a towel. And when I say towel, I mean a piece of cheese cloth the size of a handi-wipe.
Husband went in one direction and I went in the other .
Now I’m in the steamy locker room and, while trying not to look at anything around me, start to undress. You see, my initial impression of a bathing suit and hot tub were pretty far from the truth. Onsen bathing is done in the nude, and only after you have throughly and ritualistically cleansed.
In the room with the actual baths…two round ones… there are tiny stools placed along two walls in front of a trough. Above the trough are hot and cold water taps close to the floor and a shower head that’s slightly higher. Before you get into the bath, you must sit on the tiny stool and throughly clean yourself. I squat on my tiny stool, dip my cheesecloth into the water and start to soap up. After a while, I am as clean as I can get squatting on stool. It’s time to get in.
I walk to the nearest tub and get in. Two Japanese women immediately get out.
I look around again and see that the cleansing involved the buddy system. Women are in pairs, cleaning each other like those nit-picking monkeys I used to see on National Geographic specials. They’re scrubbing each other’s backs with stiff brushes, rinsing each other off and chattering away–no doubt about the blond buddy-less woman who doesn’t get the procedure.
So I get out and decide I should clean some more. I go back to my little stool and wash my hair, regardless of the fact that I don’t even have so much as a comb with me, not to mention the tools and products I used on a daily basis.
Scrub scrub scrub. Rinse rinse rinse.
Surely I’m clean now. It’s nice and chilly outside, so I try the outside tub. In I go. Out go the Japanese women.
Ok…I’m trying not to get a complex here.
“I’m clean,” I want to tell them. “Truly I am. I just don’t have black hair.”
But I just decide to enjoy having the tub to myself. There is another woman dozing in a plastic lawn chair by the tub. She is hefty and is wearing nothing but her cheesecloth over her nether regions. For the life of me, I could never, ever just doze off while sitting outside on a plastic chair. Naked.
After a while, I make the long naked walk back to the locker room and dry off the best I could using only my wet handi-wipe. Finally I had my clothes back on.
It was an interesting experience and I’m glad I did it.
At least I gave those women something interesting to talk about after I was gone.
Oh…and before you ask…I do not have pictures.