Cultural Norms and Japanese Bath Houses

//Cultural Norms and Japanese Bath Houses

Cultural Norms and Japanese Bath Houses

  I’ve probably told you this story before. But I’m like an old man, I tell stories and eventually people will say “Yes, Grandpa.” and pat me on the head after I finish. This story takes place back when I was in high school, naturally this means you can’t visualize anything I’m about to say or you are a dirty criminal. DIRTY DIRTY CRIMINAL!

  Feel persecuted yet? That’s good, wouldn’t want you time traveling and making past me uncomfortable. Time traveling pedophiles (technically ephebophiles) are genuinely threatening our way of wholesome continuity. But before I derail this conversation into a strange fan fiction about cross dimensional erotica (as if you can’t find enough of that already) I’m going to get back on topic.

  When I was in high school, technically shortly after I graduated, I went to Japan. There were many things I discovered while I was in Japan, like how travel makes me incredibly sick and my homestay has to suffer through me being near death the entire time they wanted to just enjoy learning from a bilingual healthy American (of which I was only one of these three things).

  I also discovered that it doesn’t take long for people to shed their fixation on sexuality and nudity. In my youth I remember people harassing me and others for not being manly enough. Any kind of physical contact with another guy was “gay”. Amusingly even now I know a lot of male friends who do handshakes only because anything else might get them pregnant or something.

  When we were in Japan though there was an opportunity to use a bath house. Amusingly, from what I remember, a lot of women chose not to. It was separated by gender so there was nothing weird like that going on. Most of the guys went to the men’s one and we weren’t alone. There were some random Japanese people. I think it was those Japanese people that caused the shift.

  I remember us all sitting in the bath with our towels on and looking up at the sky. Because as you know if you see any nude man parts its all over. Then a random Japanese man walks over to the bath, throws his towel to the side and drops in. He doesn’t seem to care that we are around and he relaxes. Never once does he check to see if anyone is looking, if anyone is bothered, or whatnot.

  He came to relax in scalding hot water because he’s free.

  Shortly after this we all started to relax and just shrugged it off. Whatever, we might catch one another nude. It’s not like we are making out (and if any of us had happened to be gay there was nothing wrong with that either, but I’m working under the presumption that the half dozen guys who were staring up at the sky were doing so because of that weird ingrained fear). There was nothing sexual about the bath just like there is nothing innately sexual about nudity. That man who got in the bath didn’t do so because he was feeling randy. He wanted to relax and relaxing just happened to involve nudity.

  It’s like seeing someone naked on an educational show. The context matters, this is something we lose in the US. In the US it is always considered sexual. This is extremely true if you are male. Heaven help you if you are a single man hanging out somewhere that is near a playground (like say a water front). My joke up at the top was a not-so-subtle jab at this illusion that there are pedophiles everywhere (there aren’t).

  Sometime after we all relaxed we moved over the the pool area. The pool was warm, not quite as hot as the boiling bath outside but still not terrible. One of the guys on our trip (whose name escapes me) was constantly being pranked on the trip and he kept trying to fit in with everyone. He was a good person and I don’t think he deserved most of the heckling we gave him. But that’s a tale for another day.

  At any rate he said “I bet I can pour ice cold water on myself after getting out of the pool.” To which we all laughed because that be the path to death. But sure enough he hopped out and sat on the stool and doused himself with a big bucket full of (and I mean this almost literally) ice cold water.

  When they water rolled by the pool edge you could feel the temperature shift it made in the air. He started shaking (as you do) and shouted. Keep in mind that there are some Japanese people here, I presume this is not common for them. Anyways we all decide that we can’t let him be the best with one bucket. So we start upping the ante to two ice cold buckets, then three, before we knew it we had the entire line of buckets (thankfully nobody needed them at the time) and were chain dousing ourselves then quickly jumping into the pool to “recharge” the warmth and try again.

  This went on for a bit and we were screaming and shouting. It was genuinely painful at times but it was incredibly funny too. It was, to my recollection, one of the most amusing things I’ve ever done in my life. Even in hindsight it sounds like such a strange tale but for us there was nothing weird going on. We had found a genuinely stupid game, as guys tend to do, and we were competing, as guys tend to do. I don’t know if anyone won because I don’t think anybody lost. In the end we all laughed it up and (finally) left the bathhouse.

  I wonder what those Japanese men though of a bunch of Americans shouting like fools. Did it bother them or did it amuse them? I know I tend to smile when tourists do silly things in the states, I like to think that I give that same kind of amusement when I travel abroad.

  When we left the bathhouse I remember Liz (and others) mentioning that they could hear us shouting. The story was very fun to tell then and I still smile when I think back to how dumb it was now. Yet I feel if this same story unfolded in the US there would be some strange extra connotations to it. Because we are absolutely obsessed with sexuality, it is why all our ratings systems dwell on it and pass over violence. We have yet to come to terms with the fact that nudity is just nudity, it isn’t anymore special than absolute zero. Nudity is merely the starting point before you add clothing. You don’t imply anything with it unless you intend to do so.

  I will also note that if you ever have the chance to be very very hot (steaming hot) and then douse yourself with ice cold water you should do so. My skin was the softest it had ever been after that and occasionally I do it (though now alone) with equally good results. Considerably cheaper than buying skin products and you get immediate results.

  So yeah, that’s my bathhouse story.

By | 2013-11-29T22:52:36+00:00 November 29th, 2013|Journal|Comments Off on Cultural Norms and Japanese Bath Houses