Japan Today

Don’t forget your towel - experiencing mixed public bathing for first time

By Andrew Miller

When it comes to mixed bathing in public, it is an experience that perhaps most of us are unfamiliar with. In many respects the aspect of unfamiliarity is only just the beginning; acting naturally around not only strangers, but those of the opposite sex — while baring all, no less — is undeniably something that requires great courage. It is with such bravery that our female reporter, Tomoe, entered into a Japanese “konyoku” to experience what all the fuss was about first hand.

“Admittedly, the male bathers’ glances were something that played on my mind a little; however, this in itself had its own element of fascination,” admits Tomoe.

The hot spring region that our reporter visited goes by the name of Okuhidaonsengo. In this region, there are numerous hot spring buildings, called "kan" in Japanese. Our reporter visited the “suimeikan” which is located in Gifu Prefecture. This is reported to be the largest open-air hot spring, in which up to 250 people can enter at once.

With such open-air enormity, it is fair to say that any fears of not having a place to bathe can be dispelled.

You'll need a wrap towel

When first entering the hot spring, you need to go to the check-in. Here you pay an 800 yen admission fee. At this point, particularly worth noting is that for all the female bathers out there, forgetting the rental of a wrap towel can prove fatal. This may seem like a trivial matter but when entering the hot spring, renting a towel designed to cover the fundamental parts will save the embarrassment of baring absolutely everything to members of the opposite sex. If you forget to rent a towel, you will have to use your own towel, which, if you failed to bring, could lead to potential awkwardness. On the other hand, for the men out there, a single hand towel seems to do an adequate job. For those of you who have heard this and thought “so what about bringing a bathing costume?” the sad news is that only towels are permitted into this establishment.

Most of the bathers are either dating or married couples

Next, after finalizing the details at check-in, it’s off to the “konyoku” hot spring. Our reporter got naked and, after securing the wrap towel around herself, proceeded to the open air bath, otherwise known as “rotenburo.” So just what were her initial impressions? Moreover, just what type of people actually frequent such a place?

As Tomoe looked around restlessly, it was apparent that most of the bathers were couples; perhaps a reassuring sign. The occasional single man could also be seen bathing alone, which in the company of what is mostly couples, leaves little to the imagination as to why he would stand out. Our reporter reflects that such a feeling of conspicuity may raise an element of anxiety among the single male bathers as well. In this sense, perhaps both parties can’t help but feel a little awkward. If you want to save unwanted embarrassment, it sounds like going as a couple is the best bet.

Hold on, what was the point of the towel?

If you thought that the wrap towel was sufficient in completely covering the female figure, think again. Likewise, although the men conceal themselves with a hand towel, strictly speaking most of the men are completely naked. Tomoe, on first entering, tried not to notice the men by her completely in the buff, but admits that in such circumstances, “your line of sight naturally drifts in that direction.” Whilst the women are not completely naked, after bathing in the wrap towel, the women’s body lines become transparent. Our reporter admits that this creates a sense of sexiness. She adds that the body line can be distinctly seen and the figure from the rear is particularly striking. It seems that although the wrap towel goes some way in hiding the essential parts, it is not by all means foolproof.

Foreign couple, maybe a little too frank?

Whilst bathing in the “konyoku,” our reporter was startled by one particular scene; although Japanese bathers carried their towels with them, the surrounding couples from abroad were completely naked, and seemed not in the least bit ashamed to bare all. It is often thought that visitors to Japan are a little hesitant about entering completely starkers into such a public place, and for a moment, Tomoe found herself losing sight of the true foreigner.

The men bare all

It would seem that for anyone bathing in the outdoor baths, the men’s changing room is completely on show. Of course, taking a peep would be a breach of public etiquette.

Reporter: “What do you think about mixed bathing?”

Male visitor: “This is my first time to come to such a place and to be honest it’s made me realize what a novice I am. A hot spring is a place to heal and relax the body, a place to reduce unwanted fatigue, but coming here has only made me nervous and fidgety. I feel like I’m unable to enjoy the basic fundamentals of the hot spring experience. Wicked thoughts come into my mind; I feel like a despicable, deplorable man. I think I need to start over again!”

After this comment, the interviewee fled into the distance never to be seen again.

So what do you guys think? Has our reporter’s experience made you feel even just a little bit inclined to venture into the realms of “konyoku”? On a concluding note, we have one very important piece of advice; it is probably safer not to come here on a double date. I think you all know the reason behind that.

Source: youpouch.com

Read more stories on RocketNews24. -- Take the “Public” Out of Public Bathing and Make a Natural Hot Spring in the Comfort of Your Own Home -- J-Pop Theme Song For Famous Hot Spring Full of “Vomit” Thanks to Double Entendre -- What’s Happening on the Men’s Side of the Bath House?

© RocketNews24

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It shows how out of touch Japan's young adults are with their own culture when they think mixed bathing is abnormal.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

i was about to say isnt that how most of the older hot springs were? mixed, i wouldnt mind going there looks pretty.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I've read that it was the prudish concerns of the American occupiers that led to the demise (for the most part), of mixed-bathing onsen...Too bad, as I've been to one and it was a pretty good experience and definitely didn't have any weirdness. If the interviewee above couldn't control his 'wicked thoughts', it's his own problem and maybe he'd be better off relaxing telling his problems to some biddy at a hostess club.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Out of all the foreign bathers, Germans are the most hilarious...The ones I've met will throw their clothes off at the drop of a hat and don't mind baring all to the crowd- an uninhibited lot for the most part!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

"I've read that it was the prudish concerns of the American occupiers that led to the demise (for the most part), of mixed-bathing onsen..."

I confess I don't know the truth as to that, but it would seem to me that the US and allied occupying forces was first, and foremost concerned about larger city populations and second, too busy with more important things than nudity in hot springs located for the most part in rural areas. My guess is that this was a gradual consequence of western (US,British and European) values.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Well in theory it sounds okay. I for one would feel super weird. I felt pretty weird just doing it with only males. Guess it's just my being western..

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Amazingly bad spelling. Japanese kids have lost their connection to their history. It is due to western religion influence. Sad that Japanese are so influenced by authority figures.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

I never use a towel and find that the men do not stare at me at all from the front at least.

3 ( +5 / -2 )


1 ( +2 / -1 )


I've never been to either nudist versions but I think they're quite different. Onsens in general are much more personal because of the much smaller physical size and much fewer number of people, and on a beach you don't generally pull up a bunch of deck chairs in a circle and stare at each other, or not. I could go to a nudist beach quite happily, but a mixed onsen would be a bit strange, if anything maybe precisely because of the towels. You wear a towel by definition because you're self-conscious. If people just let it all hang out and the attitude wasn't so self-conscious I wouldn't mind or care so much either.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I love onsens and public bathing spaces in Japan. Honestly I get a little freaked out when I walk out of the changing rooms, but by the time I've got into the water and I'm relaxing in the heat I completely forget about where I am.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If ya have nothing to show, then ya have nothing to worry about.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

couples - no issue whatsoever, but no way am I going to one of these if there's pervy single men there... get your own girl!

(I'm a guy and yes, I've been to loads of hot springs)

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The article talks about . . .

the embarrassment of bearing absolutely everything to members of the opposite sex

I wonder what it is that female onsen bathers have to bear to members of the opposite sex?

Hot sake and snacks would be very nice :)

4 ( +5 / -1 )

the sentos stopped being mixed in the meiji era because the rulers of Japan wanted to appear civilized, not because of foreign pressure. The onsens were mostly mixed until the 80's when the "onsen boom" began and younger people started visiting them. before that it was mostly old people and they were quite comfortable with mixed bathing. trying to blame the US occupation is off base . 20th century Japanese had learned to be prudish and believe it to be "traditional"

0 ( +3 / -3 )

the only thing that shocked most of the bathers i got acquainted with at a 混浴 was; that they were surprised to why i shaved everything off. I don't usually wrap a towel around since, what's the point?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"the surrounding couples from abroad were completely naked, and seemed not in the least bit ashamed to bear all."

I think it depends on what nation they come from. I'm not shy to 'bare' all, nor would I be in a mixed hotspring, but if some sexy young females came in I might have to wait a while before standing up from the bath. haha. Actually I went to one and it was indeed mostly families or couples, and no one was bare. It was a nice experience, really.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Well, I love onsens.

From the sulphury earthiness of Hakone and Gifu to the coffee coloured onsens in the Chitose area in Hokkaido.

I missed this when we moved to Okinawa, but, in December, they opened one on Senaga island, at the south end of Naha airport!

I was there on the second of January.

It was perfect!

Sitting in the rotenburo with deliciously warm water up to my neck, a cool breeze on my head and a breathtaking view of the Okinawa-blue ocean, islands in the distance, it was truly wonderful.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

On the other hand, for the men out there, a single hand towel seems to do an adequate job.

Hah! In your dreams! (makes elephant trumpet sounds) XD

(Ok ok, yeah. A hand towel does the job.) :-/

The awkwardness is the biggest thing I would have to get over. If it was an actual hot spring I doubt I'd be spending much time contemplating the opposite sex in the onsen. The hot water would be sapping any friskiness I might have experienced. Like the one guy said, you're there to relax and let the heat work on your stress. Going there just to oogle the opposite sex is defeating the whole purpose.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I'm used to people staring so this has never really been a problem for me although I normally just stick to hot rooms. The place featured in the article actually looks really nice, mixed bathing might be a nice change of pace next time I'm in town.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Mixed bathing. It's called Northern California and hot tubs. Nice memories. Great parties.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A little tip here.......the only thing more awkward than naked communal bathing with your brand new Japanese in-laws......is having your own gaijin parents there too.

After that, simply going to a mixed public onsen with the mrs. and strangers was downright comfy!!!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Mixed onsen are fine unless you find yourself bathing with a group tour of oyaji...

Not recommended.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

If you will displace a lot of the water or cause a tsunami, then think twice about entering whether clothed or not.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Years ago I mused to a Japanese colleague (I'm American) about going to one of these. He warned me not to: he said they were just places where Obaa-chans lurked, only their eyes and tops of their heads showing above the water, like alligators, staring at the young men. That image decided me on passing on the idea.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I wish I could go to an onsen.... aw the woes of the Beikoku onna.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My shape is that of a sumo, so being naked provides for much hilarious laughter......until I bend way over to pick up the dropped towel and everyone squeals and runs for far places.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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