A Bathing Gaijin
No experience in Japan would be complete without at least one trip to an onsen/bath house. They’re big, open spaces with areas for bathing and soaking. Onsens draw from a natural hot spring, while the bathhouses have large baths with different types – your standard hot water, massage bubbles, electricity currents, and even one outside, so you can soak in the hot water amidst the snow. The Japanese take their bathing pretty seriously, and I gotta admit, it is pretty nice.
There is one drawback though. These are public baths. Public baths, which means a lot of strangers, and a lot of nakedness.
You can always tell the veteran Gaijin from the newbie Gaijin in the bathhouses. The vet sheds his clothes in an instant, and has kicked back in the bubble jet bath. The newbie Gaijin stands there, wearing his underwear and holding the miniscule hand towel and saying “and we’re not allowed to wear our shorts?” No siree Mr. Gaijin, it’s you and Mr. Tanaka, as stark-buck naked as the day you were born.
It’s not just soaking in water either. I’ve seen people bring their razors, their shampoos, even toothbrushes. I’m always amazed at how open the Japanese culture is to bathing with complete and total strangers. At first, you’re tempted to think “How nice! A culture that isn’t totally hung up on the human body, and comfortable enough to do this type of thing.” Then you remember just how fucked up Japan is sexually, and you wonder if this kind of thing doesn’t contribute to that.
If there’s one thing I hate more than anything else, it’s getting stared at while at a public bath. Cause you know what they’re looking at, and why. You can’t even hide it. Not even with your tiny little hand towel. What sucks for me is that I have a tattoo on my right shoulder, and tattoos are frowned upon by Japanese society. Because tattoos = yakuza, almost unequivocally. So I usually have to use my hand towel to cover my shoulder. …How fucked up is that? I’m in a public bathhouse, naked, and being sized up by Japanese men, and my ONE piece of tiny little cloth must be devoted to covering up my shoulder. Welcome to Japan.
And yes, they do look. They stare when we’re wearing clothes. They certainly couldn’t pass up this opportunity to behold a Gaijin Body in all its naked glory.
I spend a lot of time in public bathhouses admiring the ceiling. I can tell you, some of the ones in Kyoto have the finest roof-work I’ve ever seen. Bathhouses are a place, of course, where you come to curse peripheral vision.
It’s great that the Japanese don’t care, but I can’t handle that shit man. I don’t wanna see that. My first trip to a bathhouse ensured that I’d already seen more Japanese wang than I ever wanted to see in my entire life. This weirds me out, but they just don’t give a shit. You see old guys all spread out and shit outside of the bath. I don’t wanna see that man. Who does? “Jesus Christ, get over it, grow up!” I can already hear some of you thinking. “The Japanese don’t have a problem with it.” Sure they don’t. But y’know, if my prudish American ways keep me from wanting to watch rape/tentacle hentai porn, wanting to grope high school girls on crowded trains, and having an unhealthy obsession with lolitas, then y’know what? God Bless America.
Because of bathhouses, in Japan it’s no weird thing at all to have seen your friends naked. This is another concept I just can’t grasp. Once you’ve seen your buds naked do you ever see them any other way? We could be hanging out in Mother Russia wearing 4 layers of fur skin coats, but the after-image would STILL linger on. I can still recall an unfortunate incident during college. My friends all decided to go skinny-dipping one night. I got dragged along, but declined to remove any clothes or jump in the pool. I was doing a pretty good job of averting my eyes, but as one of my friends went to the outside of the pool to jump in, a car came up directly behind him. While he flew in midair, the car’s headlights acted as a spotlight of sorts. It was almost artistic the way the lights and shadows blended together. Unfortunately, that one moment in time was forever etched into all of our brains. I’ve tried everything short of pouring bleach down my ears to erase it, but to no avail. I’d pour the bleach down my ears but I can’t guarantee that wouldn’t fuck up something really important in the plumbing upstairs. And then I’d have to go see a Japanese doctor, who’d tell me by brain damage would probably get better if I lost some weight and took some suppositories.
But in Japan, it’s just one of those things – no big deal. I’ve never been witness to it, but one of my friends who goes to bath houses often with some of our Japanese friends tells me that one of them is quite talented in arranging his junk to make animal shapes. “And if I push right here, look! An elephant! Now, it’s a panda.”
I will give Japanese guys one thing though – they can handle the heat. Every onsen or bathhouse you go to is bound to have a sauna room. I’ve tried it ONCE. I nearly died. I walked in, and instantly I felt the heat searing my skin. It was like I’d finally walked into one of those Circles of Hell I keep claiming I’m gonna get sent to when I die. Seriously, it was that fucking hot! I had to put my towel over my face just to breathe. Meanwhile, you’ve got old Japanese guys kicked back reading up on the Nikkei and shit, I was astonished. I had to leave after only five minutes, or else I would have just become a steaming pile of melted goo.
One of the popular male fantasies, aside from all the schoolgirl/french maid/tentacle nonsense (WTF is up with Japanese guys?!) is to be able to sneak over to the women’s side of the onsen, and be witness to beautiful naked women openly bathing. Maybe even washing each other, playfully splashing each other with water, frolicking about among the suds…
I’m sorry, I went away for a while there. I’m back now.
Anyway, as for the female side of the bathhouse, I came to a sobering realization. The male side is mostly dominated by shriveling, wrinkly old men. Assuming the reverse holds true, that is nothing I ever want to see.
There actually are some bath houses/onsens in Japan that do not have a division for men/women. Everyone bathes in one common area. But still, even if all the women were naked, golden beauties, so? What, exactly, could a young male do about that? You can’t stare too hard, nor can you enjoy it too much. It would be fairly obvious if you did. Would you hit on them? While both buck naked? How would that work anyway? Just walk up, gesture downward and say “Well?” I imagine I’d be too busy thinking about approved boner-kill scenarios (baseball, war, my Japanese friend making a panda out of his nuts) to actually enjoy it.
I did go one time to a bathhouse with a female companion, and noticed that on the male side at least there were plenty of young guys. After leaving the onsen and meeting up with my companion, I asked her about the female side. She confirmed that there were quite a few young women present. “Well?” I asked her. “What did you think? Did you see a lot of beautiful girls?” I was hoping she would paint that picture of curvy (yeah right, what country do I live in), stunning women, all naked and bouncy and bathing each other and getting playful and what not. My companion gave it a moment’s thought, then said to me in all honesty, “They all had a lot of hair. I was surprised, it was just like biong!” and she made a sprawling out motion with her hands.
And she wasn’t talking about head hair either.
*Az’s Note – I know now since the original posting of this editorial that public bathing is very common in some other parts of the world, especially Europe. I’m also much less weirded out by it now (the system has broken me nicely), but I still don’t particularly enjoy seeing geriatric Japanese wang. …Who does?