Onsen by Amelie Andreas
During the Japan WeXplore in February, the people-who-have-seen-me-naked club expanded its membership by six, thanks to the Japanese tradition of communal bathing.
Our first night was at the Aso golf resort, complete with a huge buffet, a snow covered golf course, and an onsen, or a Japanese bath house. I was completely oblivious to the fact that a good portion of the people I had been singing karaoke with on the bus would, in just a few short hours, be sharing what is, essentially, just a really big bathtub full of totally naked people with me.
At first I was hesitant, as you might expect if you’ve grown up in a place where seeing people naked isn’t exactly the norm. In the spirit of breaking the arbitrary rules I have been conditioned into believing by society and my admittedly quite Western upbringing, I finally caved and decided I would do it. I would go to the onsen. As it turned out, six other girls from my module made that decision as well.
We met in the hall, across from the buffet, wearing matching hotel pyjamas with not a whole lot underneath. When we got to the onsen, everyone had changed into only towels, not one of us wanted to be the first to go completely bare. A nervous giggle, some awkward eye contact, but most definitely no removal of the towels that were the only layer between us and the frigid locker room air. No one wanted to be the first one to break the invisible wall, afraid that maybe it was made of glass and could shatter at any moment. Of course, that was until one of the girls came out of the room where the hot springs were, completely naked, and gave us a look.
One by one the towels came off. Loathing to be the last one, I took a deep breath and stowed my towel next to the discarded hotel pyjamas and ran to the spring, goosebumps rising both from the cold and the mix of tension and exhilaration that accompanies breaking one of society's unwritten rules.
Of course there was really nothing to fear from one another’s naked bodies. We’re all a little bit different in wonderful ways, and overall much the same in others. Once you get over the fact that there’s slightly less fabric around than usual, conservations in the nude become a lot easier. We talked about the censorship of nudity in our society and the unhealthy relationship we’re conditioned to have with our own bodies, but we also talked about easy, normal things, like lunch that day and what we planned to do with our free time in Nagasaki.
If anything, what that experience taught me is that the whole uproar around nudity is complete and utter nonsense. I went in the onsen with six wonderful ladies who I admire immensely, but I came out with a level of friendship that can only be obtained in the nude. For now, I look forward to giving nudity a little less thought and maybe getting naked with my friends a little more often.