My friend Ange and I were in Hakone, one hour train ride from bustling Toks. Hakone is in a volcanically active national park, surrounded by mountains. The temperature drops, the crowd disappears and the restaurants literally close at 7pm. Tokyo-ians come to escape the city life. International visitors come for the best views of Mount Fuji. But more often than not, the weather doesn’t let you see anything.

Guidebook to Hakone from 1811
Guidebook to Hakone from 1811 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was the case when we went so with not much else to do, we decided to hit the onsens (hot springs/public baths). There was only one thing. You gotta go nude.  We weren’t ready to nude up together so we went separately.

I went first. There were single-sex baths on the rooftop of our hotel. I put on my yukata  (bathrobe) and headed upstairs. In the change area, I took off my yukata and placed it in the lockers. I picked up a ‘modesty’ towel which was no bigger than a hand towel. The Japanese women wore these as headbands.

I entered the shower area and washed myself quickly with the wooden buckets and spatulas. The shampoo/conditioner/shower gel bottles weren’t marked in English so I improvised.

Then, I jumped into the first pool. In this particular onsen, there were four outdoor pools of varying temperatures from 38oC to 42oC, as well as two indoor pools. I watched as Japanese women of all ages, moved from pool to pool, completely unperturbed by the nakedness.

There were groups of young Japanese women, sitting within centimetres of each other, chatting away about work, boys and the weekend. There were Japanese toddlers, bathing nude with their mothers. I couldn’t help but sneak a few peeks. It seemed that the Brazilian was so not popular in Japan and that was so ok.

I stopped peeping and shifted my focus on relaxing. My pores opened, my skin softened and my muscles loosened. It was wonderful. I even tried a few pools. By the end, I was confident enough to sit up with water at waist level.

Upon returning home to Australia, I caught up with my Japanese friend. I boasted how I had mastered public bathing. I had celebrated my body; I was comfortable in my own skin; I was the champion of all things nude and natural.

Then she invites me to go to the bathhouse in Melbourne with her… apparently there are three.  Oh…

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