Getting Naked With Japanese Businessmen
A sea of flaccid penises seemed to stare at me as I undressed before the parade of predominantly middle-aged men. It’s not often someone gains my admiration while emerging naked in a locker room, but there I was, commending their courage to let it all hang and not give a shit. Perhaps it’s a little easier for the Japanese to be comfortable in their own skin given their culture is based on mutual respect and their country has an obesity rate a quarter that of Australia’s.
As a westerner, the level of nudity definitely caused some discomfort; even years of being in the swim team didn’t prepare me for the onsen changing room during peak hour. The Japanese are, however, courteous, meaning fortunately, there was no towel slapping from testosterone-fuelled teens.
For the uninitiated like myself, an onsen is a Japanese hot spring bath, often public. Onsen are believed to host a number of medical properties, including assisting with fatigue, digestion and muscular pain. They are an integral part of Japanese culture, and are often associated with peacefulness and purity. Japan is steeped in tradition, and its onsen are no exception.
Against my self-consciousness, I removed my yukata and placed all but my modest towel into my basket. I awkwardly danced to the public showering area in an attempt to prevent unnecessary flashing and avoid locking eyes with anyone longer than necessary. This was not the time to be asserting dominance.
My ass cheeks were greeting by a pleasantly (yet equally disturbingly) warm stool as I sat in the corner of the traditional open-plan Japanese shower room. Never in my life has a feeling of inadequacy crossed my mind over my ability to shower, but in a city of high-tech toilets and non-existent body odour, there was valid reason to believe the Japanese held superiority over one’s cleanliness. If Japan has instructions on how to sit on a toilet, why don’t they have one on how to take a shower? The absurdity of that thought didn’t take long to become apparent. I did my best to follow suit with the other men without appearing like a pervert, dried myself off and prepared myself for the grand finale.
Much like trains of Tokyo, the idea of personal space in the onsen appeared to differ greatly from my own. A quick exchange of nods confirmed my acceptance, with two kind men making room for a boy about to undergo his rite of passage. From the moment my foot broke the water, a feeling similar to the pain of grabbing a nuked frozen meal from the microwave engulfed my foot.
I was faced with quite the dilemma: do I risk potentially scalding myself, or awkwardly descend into the onsen like an unattractive model overcoming their aquaphobia? On one hand, I wanted as much as possible not to be a gaijin (dumb foreigner). On the other hand, I believed I had earned at least some respect from the men around me, one that can only be afforded by being naked in each other’s presence, even if I only learned of their existence just moments before. The winter breeze ripped through me (the gender separation saved me the embarrassment of the comical amount of shrinkage I experienced), so I surrendered to my ego.
I made a semi-graceful, but rather uncomfortable, descent into the water. I’d come so far in accepting my nudity to deny myself the experience of a hot spring with potential healing ability, just because the water was mildly uncomfortable.
While I’m certainly not qualified to give advice, I beg you not follow in the footsteps of my idiocy; foreigners have passed out because they’ve entered the water too quickly. You probably don’t want to be woken by a stark-naked old man performing CPR on you. Or perhaps it’s a fetish yet to be fulfilled. Either way, don’t rely on strangers to save your life; this isn’t a Disney movie.
The following feeling was akin to that of slipping naked into a bed of freshly changed sheets: such intense bliss, comfort and security that I questioned where the water ended and my skin actually started. Something felt right about that moment. It was as if a god beamed with pride as I sat in the volcanically-heated water, naked as the day I was born. It’s hard to believe a bustling and high-tech city pulsed just moments away – a city filled with hard-working Japanese men and women more than worthy of such a tranquil space.
In a world of Instagram filters, fat shaming, a growing number of gym-goers and appearance-focused dating platforms like Tinder, perhaps it’s time to talk about nudity as a return to ones’ natural state, to allow ourselves to embrace it when we get the chance, to keep it pure and free from sexualisation.
I sat there for over an hour balancing my modesty towel on my head, thinking about both everything and nothing at all. The brief opportunity of isolation among strangers in the comforting, still water made me let go of all my worries and question why I ever cared about my body image in the first place. People keep telling us that it’s what on the inside that counts; why do I find it so difficult to follow their advice?
Cover via Only in Japan