Ah, Japan: a land of so many wonderful things. Between the owl cafes and the rectal cleansing toilets, I experienced so many unusual first-time experiences during my holiday there.
My two friends and I ventured south of Tokyo to Odaiba so we could experience an onsen. If you’re staring quizzically at the screen right now, let me define that for you: onsen are hot springs, traditionally used as public bathing places, which are now marketed as cultural experiences central to spurring the Japanese tourism dollar.
Picturing a ‘day spa’ situation, the girls and I came prepared with our strappy bikinis ready to indulge in the soothing volcanic waters and purify our bodies before emerging fabulous, re-invigorated and thoroughly cleansed.
Changing in the female-only locker room, I became aware of an unusually high number of nude bodies crossing my line of vision. Not wanting to gawk, I brushed it off; it was a change room, after all.
“I think we have to do it naked,” my friend noted. The general response to this observation was varied.
“So down for it,” my other friend said.
“Nope, not doing it. No way,” was my answer.
Watch: Singer Christine Anu discusses her thoughts on body image. (Post continues after video.)
“No clothes,” the timid attendant instructed, while pointing at our swimwear and shaking her head. We all peered through the windows of the onsen; everyone was starkers.
Feeling completely culturally ignorant, a series of considerations went through my mind: ‘I’ve already paid my ¥2,480.’ ‘My friends have seen me in all my glory before.’ ‘When in Japan…’
This ended in a complete change of mind. “Yeah, fuck it. Let’s go.”
Our pasty white bodies were further revealed. The kit was off, the titties were cupped, and I was sharing baths with a group of random women.
The girls and I checked each other out to assuage the awkward fact we were all bearing our bods. We admired each other’s previously unseen features. I was checking out an ex-State swimmer and a recent Health and Physical Science graduate, so there was a lot of aspirational viewing for me.
“See, doesn’t Alice have nice-shaped boobs? I mean, they’re small, but such a solid shape.”
“Meg, your abs are insane. Please be my personal trainer.”
“Maddy’s butt is what mine would be like if I did squats.”
The compliments were flying around as we examined our young white bodies. Once we were comfortable with our own nudity, we started sneaking looks around the rest of the onsen-goers. We noticed that glances were returned our way as well.
In the least pervy sense possible, it was such a beautiful experience. The variations in women’s bodies was so refreshing. I could feel an absolute appreciation for the differences in feminine forms unearthing. All the subtle differences that come with age, weight, culture and disposition just made me realise how truly beautiful the female physique is. (Post continues after gallery.)
There were mothers and daughters of different ages. I specifically recall a middle-aged Japanese woman helping her elderly mother and realised I’d never observed an older woman’s body before. I mean, once I saw Grandma without a bra, but I’d quickly diverted my gaze in embarrassment. Yes, everything sags a little more, but it all tells a story and it’s quite majestic and unique. I feel like if I had been exposed to images of real aged bodies my expectations would have lessened in terms of my own self-perception.
There were a group of British tourists as well, a little curvier but so gorgeous. Like us, they looked a little confronted, but I could see them going through the same process of realisation.
What can I pass on from this experience? Get naked. The Japanese women in this onsen had no qualms about doing so; the clothing comes off and that’s it.
Through this exposure, I felt my disheartening feelings towards my 12B boobs and my touching thighs change in an instant. It was refreshing to be in an area where self-perceptions had dissolved and women were free to be completely unencumbered. There is so much beauty in uniqueness; there wasn’t one body I wasn’t fascinated by with its difference to mine.
Can we make onsens a thing here? I mean, who doesn’t love a bath, and having baths with friends would just bring back so much childhood nostalgia.
I think celebrating and embracing each other’s differences in the safety and company of a women’s-only area would spur some communal body self-love, which can only be a good thing. Perhaps it would challenge the competitive energy that seems to surround women in to comparing their bodies to one another.
No, I’m not about to run off and join and nudist colony — but I emerged from this experience enlightened and so much more comfortable with my own body. There was sense of empowerment from the comfort we all had being naked in front of one another. If you ever find yourself an onsen, quash your inhibitions and jump in. Naked.
Have you ever had an experience that shaped your feelings about your body?