TOKYO (4 a.m.)
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page. Being naked in front of strangers is the stuff of nightmares for many people. But in Japan , being naked with strangers is part of the cultural experience of visiting a Japanese bath. I was extremely self-conscious the first time I visited a Japanese bath.
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A mural fills a wall at Mikoku-yu onsen, or hot spring bath, in Sumida ward, Tokyo. Sento are bathhouses that use regular water while onsen use natural hot spring water. Japan is proud of its bathing traditions. These are washing stations in the Mitake-yu sento, or public bath, in Minami Urawa, Saitama prefecture, Japan. This is a changing room in Unsuisen sento, or public bath, in Tokyo, Japan. For many Westerners, though, the fact that these traditions involve being naked with strangers is awkward at best, even though men and women bathe separately. I suggested a different town that had an attraction I wanted to see, and thought I was off the hook. Two terms are basic when talking about Japanese baths: onsen and sento.
This open-minded attitude to the naked body started in the 19th century, when Scandinavian-style steam baths became popular; then, in the late 20th century nudity became widely accepted on beaches, in city parks and on walking trails. Recent years have seen a decline of nakedness in such outdoor settings, but the unadorned body is still the standard at bathhouses. Each bathhouse, generally containing the German word bad bath in its name, will have a clothed area centred on a swimming pool, much like any municipal fitness centre.