Thursday, June 7, 2012

Communal bathing for personal enlightenment

At 9.30pm last night I found myself soaking up to my neck in beautiful hot water in the public baths of the local gym, after an invigorating 45min Vinyasa yoga class. Now for those who are not aware of the Japanese 'Onsen' (hot spring) or 'Ofuro' (bath) culture, it basically involves a whole lot of naked people showering on tiny stools before getting into large baths of really hot water. Of course there are different sections for men and women (but I have been asked to join someone to a unisex one before. No thank you!! --called ‘Konyoku’ for those keen).

From what I hear, the onsen is not a highly sought-after experience by many Australian and other western exchange students. In fact, when I came to Japan on a school trip in grade 10 I openly refused the offer to go with my host family. It sounded terrifying! Just to imagine all these people seeing me naked, staring at my pale body, lack of breasts and…well...everyone has pubic hair right? But is it the same in Japan? It was an easy ‘no I'm fine thanks!’.  My host family didn't understand what my problem was but just laughed it off and took me to Universal Studios instead.

Two years later while on exchange here I had decided that I had to try it. I promised myself I would fully immerse myself in the Japanese. Walking into the large bath house to discover a sea of naked bodies was actually a very enlightening experience. There I was, worrying about sticking out, while here was a room filled with bodies of which not ONE was similar to the other. There were big-bottom girls, no-bottom girls, big/droopy/pointy/non-existent breasts, saggy tummies, back fat, bony hips, and plenty of cellulite! And mind you, I was probably the only person having a look! Everyone was busy shampooing hair or resting their eyes in the baths.

Anyway, the point of my blab is that so many women walked in and out of the gym’s bath house last night and I couldn’t help notice that not ONE of them had a body anything like those constantly flashed across the media. What blind person had decided the ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ body shape is 180cm tall and a size 6?

Upon this realisation, I felt so liberated walking around completely starkers without the slightest concern for my flat chest and jiggly butt, and was able to just appreciate the diversity and beauty of the female body. (Having said that, I did still get a bit of a shock when in the sauna the lady next to me sprung up into a very revealing downward facing dog. Yoga and public bath time is perhaps best left separate.)

And yet this morning before school as I sat at my laptop watching uploaded videos of  the ‘Sunrise’ morning show, on came pop star Ricky-Lee Coulter who received endless praise and glorification over how beautiful and happy she now looked after her recent weight-loss, going from a size 14 to 10. Her legs looked so long and tanned, and waist so flat and tiny. 
"Ricki-Lee Coulter unveils at
the WHO 'Sexiest people' awards 2011"

photo taken from:

The liberated and body-confident “I’m perfect the way I am” Anna from last night went out the window as I told myself if I work a little harder, I too could be ‘beautiful and happy’ like Ricky-Lee Coulter.
What a joke! Time for another trip to the onsen I think Anna:p


  1. Wow Anna, I am so disappointed in Ricki-Lee, now she looks like a little Barbie doll were before I loved her for her vibrant European beauty. This has made me a bit sad.

    Now for the Onsen - I love them too - Ladies only of course. My only experience was with you in 2009 as a sized 18 woman. Now that is an interesting experience amongst the petite Japanese women. For though the female body does come in many different shapes and sizes not many Japanese women come in a size 18. LOL. However coming from a long line of nudists (me and Grandma in our younger beautiful days) and also being the kind of woman who dares to challenge the shallow culturally held beliefs of beauty, though nervous, with a skinny face washer sized towel, held my head high and walked naked through the Onsen. Besides I knew there was no-one that would knows me and I wouldn't be coming back in a hurry. Also the ladies present would all have a good story to take home to family and friends.

    I have always believed in the importance of embracing inner beauty over external aesthetics of all people, and as such, have never been one to wear makeup as a daily beautifier. Don't get me wrong I do love makeup for dressing up and going out but I feel that ones real face should be the canvas for allowing their inner goodness to shine through. How can we do that if it is always covered up with lipstick and rouge, leading one to believe that without it one isn't good enough.

  2. Gosh Anna, you have stirred up a long lost memory of my trip to Japan in 1990! Our host Mikio took us to a famous Ofuro at a resort on Atami Peninsula. I looked at Gpa and said 'when in Rome'- I envisaged a mixed communal bath and was literally quaking at the door until Mikio said 'wrong door - women down there' Whew! However, I was the object of curiosity sitting on a tiny three legged 'milking stool to wash and soap up, then rinse off, before entering this very hot pool filled with many pairs of eyes! But how relaxing! I remember a kindly and gentle old woman approaching me to adjust my yukata, because I had the male wrap instead of the female style! Apparently left over right or right over left - I still can't remember. Experiences to stay forever in your psyche.

    1. Wow so you are even more adventurous than me thinking you were going into a mixed bath! I'm impressed haha. I love the old ladies here. On my first trip to the onsen an old lady offered to scrub my back with a special sea sponge thing. She said I had a beautiful white back haha...must somehow be linked to the beauty of the white Geisha.