Onsen is every woman’s dream. One will really fall - line, hook, and sinker - with Onsen. I was liberated and blissfully contented with my experience with Onsen.
Alright, Onsen is not a person (although one would really wish it is). It’s the Japanese public bath, with natural, mineral, hot water.
I made a mental decision to try out the Onsen as soon as I learned that I will be staying in Japan for two months. When the opportunity came, however, I was a bit fidgety and was on the verge of backing-out. Hey, I was brought up in a society incubated by Christianity for almost 400 years. The whole educational and socialization process I received taught me that I should only show my body to my partner. Read: Naked body = Malice. Now, that is a lot of baggage to shackle.
Needless to say, I have limited exposure to a naked body. More than that, the only naked body I’ve seen of a woman is myself! Well, of course I’ve seen also lots of pictures from educational and health books, but I don’t think that counts.
Public baths are separated by gender, but there are also common baths – but that is way too much for me to even imagine entering.
D-day comes. Ok, now what should I do. I was asking my Japanese friend and (self-appointed) guide Kaori every single step.
“This area is where we remove our clothes, and put them in lockers. You can bring a small towel to cover parts of your body.” Mmmm, others were doing it nonchalantly, I’d definitely look funny if I appear too prude. Ok, strip away.
Then we entered another door, where the public bath is supposed to be located. Just imagine the image that jumped out on me. So many naked women, walking here and there, no care about the world! I was the one who felt ashamed of their nakedness (as I’ve said, I had a lot of conceptual and cultural baggage).
“This is the public bath, but you have to wash yourself first.” On the side are ‘shower corners’ where you’ll find liquid soap, shampoo, a plastic basin, a plastic stool, and a hand-held shower.
After cleaning myself, I dip in the bath. It was pleasantly hot (40 C) and women were chatting in every corner, while some just enjoy their aloneness. Of course it’s an understatement to say that I observed every single event happening in the Onsen. It was a totally new experience for me and it’s justifiable for me to be curious.
Different women, all shapes, sizes, texture, age, disposition. Women I know, women who are strangers. All naked, all natural in their nakedness. I began to relax about my own. It totally gave me a whole new perspective about one’s body. And I began to celebrate our being women.
Now I appreciate why great painters in the world glorify the woman’s body. The curves, the slopes, the bulges, the voluptuousness …. in a strange way these are exactly what makes a woman’s body beautiful. Now, I am at peace with my own. Liberating is exactly the right word for this experience.
Now you know why I glorify Onsen. My experience with it totally gave me a whole new perspective about myself, the body, and women-solidarity.
And yes, I am totally hooked with Onsen!
(Maybe it's just me. But I really find this curiously amusing: While in the bath, I transferred from the indoor to the outside pool where you'll feel the cold wind that signals the beginning of winter while you soak in the hot mineral water-filled pool. It was really bliss! While walking towards the pool, I gingerly try to cover my private part with my small towel - never mind the breast as I don't really have much. But I noticed that the Japanese women in the bath would cover their breast every time they get out of the pool, not their privates. Mmmm...another case of cultural difference on which part of the body is regarded more important? :)