How I Warmed-up To The Japanese Hot Spring
For those of you who haven't had a peek at my About page, I am from the U.S. of A., and my experience of bath taking is pretty much summed up in my embarrassing childhood photos; stark-naked playing with GI-Joes.
Bath taking is generally thought of as a kid's thing to do in the U.S. In fact, it's almost a right of passage to adulthood to graduate from the bath to the shower. Not to mention, having to take a bath with mom or dad isn't exactly a family bonding experience for a 12 year old.
This is why when I came to Japan taking a public bath (温泉) wasn't exactly a relaxing a moment in heaven for me. The prospect of having to take a bath completely naked with a bunch of other dudes I don't even know (without any GI-Joes, for that matter!) wasn't my cup of tea. Needless to say, I made the leap and entered my first public bath in a small resort town in Japan.
There was only one other guy in the bath at the time, which made the experience a little less nerve racking. I spent a few minutes in and out of the bath because it was so damn hot, every time becoming less and less conscious of my nakedness. But to be honest, my first go around was a bit awkward because I was more worried about my exposure than I was focused on enjoying the moment and relaxing.
My second time around was really the turning point. For two reasons, first, because it was my second time and I knew not only what to expect but also the dos and don'ts (don't bring your glasses into the bath, not only will it save you the embarrassment when somebody asks you about it, but it will also save you from having to see something you could have gone without seeing; for those of you who have 20/20 vision, I pity you in this case =P).
The second reason was because I experienced an outdoor bath (露天風呂) in the midst of winter, in the mountains. The picture above pretty much sums it up, absolutely amazing. The monkey in the picture is obviously content with simply the warmth of the bath and this is the case for many Japanese, but for me, as someone who didn't grow up in a bath-taking culture, it was the combination of the relaxing bath AND the view (not THAT view =)! ) of the mountains and the distant city.
The view at this particular bath did two things for me: even without glasses, it took my attention off of my exposure, and it allowed me to enjoy the moment, the warmth, and the silence of a Japanese bath. Only then was I able to actually understand why people in Japan are willing to get into the same pool of water naked with complete strangers: I'll point your eyes to the photo again; because even a monkey, who understands little beyond eating, sleeping, and simple communication, succumbs to the absolute freedom, comfort, and relaxation a hot bath ushers forth. Add the scenery, and there really isn't anything like this in the entire world, folks.
For those of you in Japan who are holding back for whatever reason. Take that step forward, it'll be worth every moment. After all, if a monkey can enjoy it this much, so can you.