There's nothing better than slipping into a hot bath. You feel your muscles relax. The cares of the day float away on a cloud of steam.
Man, I have the absolute best litmus test to access how we feel about our bods. Last week, I flung myself, into the onsen doors, pretending to be confident, knowing I was going to obviously, take it all off. Have you been in an onsen, a Japanese hot spring bath?
In April, my fiance and I visited Japan for the first time. Both of us spent years read manga and watching anime, it was only a matter of time before we meandered our way over the Pacific. Foreign to me as an American is the concept of public bath houses.
Yes, a good portion of the classmates I had been singing karaoke with on the bus just a few short hours ago would soon be sharing a really big bathtub full of totally naked people with me. Strange, no? Communal public baths, or onsens, have a rich history in Japan, from serving as inherently weapons-free meeting places for Yakuza gang members quite the challenge to be packing heat in the nudeto facilitating spiritually important Buddhist cleansing rituals and providing numerous purported health benefits.
No towel, no problem. Catch this traditional Japanese experience of a mixed-gender host spring bath before it slips away With Japan being a highly volcanic island, the Japanese have harnessed and perfected the art of onsenor hot springsfor centuries.
So there I was, in this picturesque hot spring resort in the mountains, surrounded by snow and fir trees, a rushing river, cages of live black bears and…the very picturesque view of very fat, very naked, Japanese men. In the snow. Yes, even in the bath.
Mixed-gender bathing has a long and rich history in Japan, but it is also difficult to find English information on many of them because they are rather traditional. Fortunately, GaijinPot Travel and GaijinPot Blog have guides and listings of where to find a natural hot spring where men and women can bathe together. Some places are mystical hot springs outside in caves or rivers, others are simply private baths you can rent out, which are certainly not your traditional mixed-gender onsen but do offer a more intimate onsen experience.
Cultural exposure comes in many forms: Trying local food. Learning foreign phrases. Getting naked in front of strangers.
They were round with a narrow valley between them and belonged to a woman who shared a ride with me to our inn in Kiso Valley, a woman who saw my brown nipples as sure as I saw her pink ones, glistening after her soak in the onsen. She quickly grabbed her towel in the basket next to mine and I darted to the bathing area, my face warmer than the steam emanating from the hot spring bath. I was relieved to find the bathing area empty.