Updated: Mar 2, 2020
After reading the title you're probably thinking this piece will be such a cliche. After all, it is a story of how a white girl goes to a Japanese Onsen and suddenly feels better about herself. That is indeed what happened to me, but let me give you some background first.
For those who don't know, an Onsen is a traditional bath-house here in Japan. No clothes are permitted and they are usually segregated by gender (although you can go to a mixed-gender one if you want). Worth noting that the mixed ones are the super traditional
When a friend asked if I wanted to go to an onsen with her, I felt quite confronted. I'm usually a very private person and the thought of being naked around a bunch of other people made me feel uneasy. I'm usually the one telling people to put their clothes on out of secondhand embarrassment. However, this time I was determined to get out of my comfort zone. "Why not, let's do it!" I said to my friend, and we planned our Onsen experience.
We ventured out onto the streets of a luminescent Tokyo in search of an Onsen. A bus and train ride later and we had arrived at one. Upon the first appearance, the Onsen didn't resemble a bath-house, but rather a hotel. There was a lobby to 'check-in' where you paid the entrance fee and a relaxation area to chill out in after your bath. The staff directed us to an elevator which took us to the floor of the female area. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with an abundance of naked women just going about their day. It was refreshing to see how everyone was so unconcerned about everyone else and were only there to freshen up.
Once we were up there, my friend started stripping down (she is an experienced Onsen goer) and prompted me to do so too. I was hesitant, was I about to flash my boobs to all these strangers. I guess so and off came my clothes too. Once my clothes were off, I experienced this sense of freedom like I hadn't before. It was almost like once the stigma was gone and it was evident no one else gave a shit I was naked, all the hesitation I had before melted away. I then strutted my stuff through the shower area and to the Onsen baths.
My friend and I entered the bath together and enjoyed meaningful conversation throughout our time there as if we were at a cafe having coffee. It didn't even feel strange that I was technically looking at her naked. Although you might think the temptation to stare is there in that situation, I felt no desire to do so and felt no different as if we were just having a coffee together. I left the Onsen feeling refreshed and relaxed, and really enjoyed my time there!
It's not until you see a bunch of naked women that you realise no two bodies are the same and that the expectation of looking like a supermodel is very unrealistic. All the women there did not stare or judge each other as they were just there to enjoy a nice bath. Western culture has ingrained us to think of this ideal when we should be looking at how other cultures perceive their bodies. I am sure it is in a much healthier way than what I'm used to.
After this experience, I feel much more comfortable within myself and know that you, me and she are beautiful in our unique ways.
If you want to visit an Onsen while in Japan, check out this one I visited in Tokyo (it has great views of the Tokyo SkyTree).
Address: 3 Chrome-30-8 Ishiwara, Sumida City, Tokyo 130-0011, Japan
Phone: +81 3-3623-1695