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How old is too old for a boy to go into the women’s hot spring bath in Japan?

33 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

While some Japanese hot springs operate under a konyoku policy, in which male and female bathers share the same tubs, for the most part bathing in Japan is gender-segregated, even when it’s communal. However, an exception is usually made for young kids.

The logic is pretty easy to follow. Sometimes, a child may be at an onsen/hot spring or sento/public bath with just one parent, and if there’s a mother with her son, it’s not reasonable to send him over to the men’s bath by himself if he’s under a certain age. The question, though, is what that age is.

Personal opinions on the matter often fall into factors like whether the boy (the majority of voiced complaints are about mothers taking boys into the women’s bath, as opposed to fathers taking daughters into the men’s bath) is old enough to get excited about seeing naked ladies, or to form concrete memories of what he saw. However, it turns out there’s no hard-and-fast numerical cutoff under Japanese law about when parents are no longer allowed to bring children into the opposite gender-segregated bath. In many people’s opinions, though, once a child starts the first year of elementary school (which usually occurs at the age of five), it’s probably about time for them to start using the bath for their gender.

▼ While female models in onsen advertising are often depicted with towels wrapped around their body, actual customers are required to bathe naked.

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Photo: PAKUTASO

However, child development author Mitsuko Tateishi points out that this loosely defined guideline can lead to misunderstandings and discomfort. Children who are especially tall or large-framed for their age, for example, might be perceived as older than they really are, causing other bathers to be bothered by the presence of a boy in the women’s bath who’s actually not yet old enough to properly wash himself. Another potential issue Tateishi discusses is older children with autism or other mental health issues who require their mother’s assistance in the bath.

Still, Tateishi subscribes to the philosophy that once a boy is in elementary school, mothers should transition away from taking them into the women’s bath. By that age, she says, they should be getting the hang of how to scrub off their grime and shampoo their hair on their own before hopping into the shared tub (as is the Japanese custom), and should also be able to observe proper communal bathing etiquette such as not splashing, swimming, or letting their towel fall into the bathwater.

However, Tateishi does recognize that different children develop differently, and that not all kids are ready to bathe by themselves even after starting elementary school. In those cases, she recommends choosing hot springs that have private baths that can be rented for family use, while also expressing her hope that shared bathing facilities will bring back a custom from Japan’s feudal-era past.

Through the Edo period, Tateishi explains, public baths would employ attendants known as sansuke. For a fee, the sansuke would provide assistance such as washing the customer’s back. Tateishi says that bringing back such services, adapted into sort of an “in-bath babysitter” role, would allow boys who’re getting too old to go into the woman’s bath with Mom to more easily transition to using the men’s bath.

However, a few potential roadblocks to that plan quickly spring to mind. Aside from the additional cost, there’s the question of whether or not a mother who feels uneasy sending her son into the men’s bath by himself would really feel any more at ease if her child, who is of course going to be naked for the duration, is accompanied by an employee of the facility or if not, a stranger. Granted, Japanese society does place an extraordinary amount of faith in working professionals, but this seems like it’d be beyond the comfort level of many mothers.

The issue of how to handle young kids in the opposite gender’s bath is particularly tricky, because onsen/sento bathing facilities aren’t private like a public bathroom stall, nor is the goal to get in and out as quickly as possible, like with a changing room at a public pool. The whole point of Japan’s traditional bathhouses is to stretch out the bathing process and make it a relaxing ritual, so operators can’t dismiss out of hand complaints from customers who dislike having boys in the women’s baths. Nevertheless, with a far greater number of single mothers in Japan now than in the past, and the reinvigoration of the country’s love of onsen over the past decade and a half, it’s a topic that’s likely to continue being debated.

Source: Niconico News/Otona Answer via Jin

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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-- Soup not soap: Japanese public bathhouses surviving by converting into retro-chic cafés

-- Onsen in Nagano will now welcome foreigners with tattoos, as long as they patch ’em up

© SoraNews24

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

33 Comments
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I have a son, but if I had a daughter, there is no way in a million years I would take her into the mens bath at any age.

As for the age of boys in the ladies...I'm guessing you could judge by how he behaves in the bath. Then you'd know better next time

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Well where is Dad? Can't he accompany son in?

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Anything above a baby is not necessary.

But Japan is very tolerant of nudity and bathing with your company co workers even is totally normal lol.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

I'd say five or six.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

There are co-ed onsens in Japan, so the answer is never old enough at certain locations.

https://blog.gaijinpot.com/7-onsen-kanto-men-women-can-bathe-together/

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Onsens could set days and/or hours when mothers are welcome to take children of both sexes to the bath. Those bathers who are uncomfortable with it could choose a different time.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I have been in an onsen when a father came in with what might have been a 7 year old daughter (perhaps +- couple of years). She was old enough to bath herself. And although i wasnt "looking" you could see she was sitting like a woman would sit. I thought that was totally inappropriate. I bathe my baby daughter, but Onsen's are mum's job for sure.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Well where is Dad? Can't he accompany son in?

For sure if they had one they could, but as it states in the article with single mothers being the highest it has ever been it's more focused on them.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Samit Basu: There are co-ed onsens in Japan, so the answer is never old enough at certain locations.

I visited a coed rotenburo (amongst other single sex baths) in Fukushima or thereabouts. What I found was a few 50+ yo men walking around to visibly expose themselves or sit on a perch so even those outside the bath are exposed to them, and maybe a few grannies venture in. Whatever co-ed baths may have been in the past they are not mainstream anymore in my opinion. Actually kind of creepy.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Well, mothers show up with sons not only in konyoku..I have seen a tall 8 year old boy in all-female onsen, and it was really uncomfortable. Not that he would have drawn if he was let alone in a men's part of the onsen,too.

When those folks bring their kids along, they dont see the problem coz their kids see them naked in a bathroom at home,too.Unlike the strangers. Personally, I feel that after 6 yo girls should be in women's onsen, boys-in men's.

One of my friends jokes that this practice is the reason why there are so many pervs around.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

 .... autism or other mental health issues ....

I take offense to this statement in the article. Autism is not a mental health issue at all.

As far as age goes, I feel both should be mixed. For those that cannot control themselves, they could be told to leave. At least there will be no cellphones out and about.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

@Haruka:  For those that cannot control themselves, they could be told to leave.

So if a guy has a towel hanging on the mast that is proof he cannot control himself and should leave?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I live near ski resorts so we get a lot of parent + child in the onsen on their way home.

If its a dad skiing with a six-year-old girl (pre-school), I would say take her in. The alternative is leaving her on her own in a public place. I wouldn't do that with my daughter at that age. I would leave that till she's started school.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

For all of the tatemae I see in Tokyo every day such as averting eyes on train and sidewalk, no "hellos" even amongst neighbors, avoiding holding doors to prevent any interaction, it is amazing Japanese will get naked in front of strangers without hesitation.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

It seems to me that its most of the adults that have the hang ups around this. Probably equating bathing and sleeping with your child as inappropriate.

If the child, wishes to go with mum or dad and they are young enough then fine.

Kindergarten kids should go with a parent, but there should be a caveats not just based on numbers or prejudices.

Some children may not be able to go alone. Eg Someone with a disability, downs syndrome, or something else, intact some people may even take offence at some people with any disability, and thats before you've even discussed an ostomat or a single parent who may wish to take their son or daughter with them, because they have no choice and need to be with their child. Of course this depends on the childs development and while the person above did not like the article because of the use of "autism and mental health" as an example, there is a wide spectrum in regards to autism so it is a fair example.(depending on the child's level of autism).You may not like the example as you say but autism is a good example of a developmental disorder where a parents help may be needed there child even if they are first or second grade primary.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

It was actually the Americans who enforced separation of the genders in hot springs, during the Occupation. Japan needs to tear up the constitution and go back to its own cultural ways.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

My 5 year old daughter won't go in with me any more as the last time put her off. She was 4 and we were in the locker area when some weird looking naked old guy whose locker was close by approached with his dangly ball bag. That was enough.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

@Kniknaknokkaer: My 5 year old daughter won't go in with me any more as the last time put her off. She was 4 and we were in the locker area when some weird looking naked old guy whose locker was close by approached with his dangly ball bag. That was enough.

Smart girl.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well where is Dad? Can't he accompany son in?

Working of course

when some weird looking naked old guy whose locker was close by approached with his dangly ball bag. That was enough.

I am a guy and that freaks me out too. Really, they should be an age limit the other way at Onsen so we all do not have to see such things. Ancient women too, ugh. There are never women like in the picture above at Onsen. Average age is 80 for sure, just like most of rural Japan. There is a guy at my gym, he must be 100. More power to him to creep around the gym and I presume exercise. But he should be allowed only in the gym from 6am to 8am. He is up then anyway. .

0 ( +4 / -4 )

zurcronium

you lack compassion and respect for old people. What's up with ya man. If you don't like seeing older naked men in the onsen then just don't go. It's not something that ever bothers me because we all be like that eventually too. Same for the gym. Gross insults and agism.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Definitely feel something strange when young girls - and I mean 8+ or so - come into the mens bath at my local onsen.

I've witnessed it a few times a year.

Personally I don't usually care, but for sure there are many creepy ogling eyes around. One time a young father brought 3 girls (maybe not all his daughters) but nonetheless, 3 girls in. I felt uncomfortable on that occasion, because the kids were bopping around everywhere and I for one didn't want to be accused of staring. It was difficult to enjoy a relaxing onsen at that time. Don't know what the father thought, but he looked like he couldn't care less.

Strange.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Gender segregation is the most stupid thing the humanity has invented. Lots of perversions developed because of gender segregation, because people are not used to seeing other people (either of the same or opposite sex, it doesn't matter) naked, making it a taboo from the young age. I'm against gender segregation in onsens, subway or any other places.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Westerners or maybe Americans are more hung up on nudity even with all the stuff that comes out of Hollywood far worse than time in an Onsen. In Europe there are many nudist beaches.

Foreign nudists flock to Gunma hot spring resort

https://japantoday.com/category/features/kuchikomi/foreign-nudists-flock-to-gunma-hot-spring-resort

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Nan Ferra, it started a lot earlier than WWII. Some of the first Westerners in the 1870s and 1880s particularly strongly Christian conservative ones, complained loud and long about semi-nudity in Sumo and nudity in communal bathing. Even so, as Samit Basu says above, there are still some places which blithely continue the old pre-Western traditon.

Naturally therefore there can be no 'cut-off' age as all develop differently, but kids catch on pretty quickly here particularly as the TV rather encourages early exposure to sexual matters.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

For all of the tatemae I see in Tokyo every day such as averting eyes on train and sidewalk, no "hellos" even amongst neighbors, avoiding holding doors to prevent any interaction, it is amazing Japanese will get naked in front of strangers without hesitation.

Only amazing from a foreigner's perspective. The Japanese feel confused by foreigners' (particularly Americans') hang-ups about nudity, confusing it with sex.

I have a son, but if I had a daughter, there is no way in a million years I would take her into the mens bath at any age.

Presumably this has to do with concerns about paedophilia. When it come to that kind of person, gay/straight rules do not apply. If anything, young boys are more of a target. But really, what exactly are you worried about with either sex? That your child will be assaulted in an onsen?

It was actually the Americans who enforced separation of the genders in hot springs

Ignoring how the separation came about, it was enforced separation of the sexes, not 'genders' - gender and sex are different things - one social the other biological. The article makes the same mistake. A man can identify with the female gender as much as he likes, but it will never allow him into the women's section. I know this sounds a bit fussy, but I really hate the recent rise of gender to also mean biological sex.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

In terms of when is too old, it should be fairly obvious - the age when the child begins to be embarrassed by being naked in front of the other sex. That will probably happen at around 5 or 6, for both sexes.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Whenever a kid gets into an accident on his/her way to school, most commentators here are fast to complain its too dangerous. But here, nobody seems to care about a kid drowning in the dimly lit outdoor onsen...

I have been working since 6 years in a restaurant of a resort hotel and onsen, so I got to use the onsen for free most of the times, except for high seasons and weekends. And I took my 2 kids, now 7 and 4, nearly once a week, esp in winter. When my daughter, now 1st grade, says she wants to go alone to the womens bath, yes, I will let her go, but still worry more about her having an accident, more than some jerks looking at her in the mens bath because its dark outside, sometimes not many people. Not for nothing is water called "the silent killer". Than again I think she might feel strange if one of her classmates suddenly showed up. Commuting to school is dangerous too, of course, but the kids got training for it, instinct is more developed there ( I hope).

3 ( +3 / -0 )

But here, nobody seems to care about a kid drowning in the dimly lit outdoor onsen...

Is this because it does not really happen? I have read plenty of stories about children dying in hot cars while the parents play pachinko, but very few about children drowning in a rotemburo.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Traditionally, Japanese baths were not separated by sex. That was done after the war by McArthur.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

99 :)

3 ( +3 / -0 )

thepersoniamnowMar. 9  09:03 am JST

Anything above a baby is not necessary.

Because... why exactly? Yet another confusing nudity with sex.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Traditionally, Japanese baths were not separated by sex. That was done after the war by McArthur.

Truethe used to be mixed, but it happened well before McArthur.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are co-ed onsens in Japan

Mixed sex educational onsens? Wow - that will make eikaiwa more interesting.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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