Lessons I learned about body positivity after visiting a Japanese hot spring


I am probably one of the few Indians brave enough to visit an onsen in Japan. Where I am from, it is unheard of in our culture to bathe naked among strangers—or even friends and family. We’re taught from a young age to respect our bodies by covering up. Most Indian families encourage modest dressing too. Any clothing item revealing too much skin is a big no-no. Because of my upbringing, I had a tough time initially adjusting to the onsen culture in Japan.

My first onsen experience took place in Hakone in 2017. My sister and I were backpacking around the country and wanted to experience a part of Japanese culture firsthand. Visiting a hot spring together has always been on our travel bucket list, and now that we were in Japan, we could finally tick it off the list. 

I found the onsen experience very eye-opening. It was the first time for me to see women being comfortable with nudity and using the place as an opportunity to bond with their friends and family. I admired how free and comfortable they seemed with their bodies. This experience inspired me to build a similar relationship with mine. It wasn’t something that happened overnight, though. I had to broaden my perspective and rethink some of my beliefs. 

The more time I spent in the hot spring, the more comfortable I felt in my own skin. Along the way, I learned a few valuable lessons about body positivity, which I would like to share with you.

We’re more conscious of our bodies than those around us

It took me a couple of trips to the hot spring to realize that the only person who was overly conscious of my body was myself. As long as I followed proper onsen etiquette, no one there seemed to mind whether my hair wasn’t in a perfect bun or that I had prominent love handles. Everyone was busy doing their own thing, focusing on themselves. It became a place where I could let down my walls without being judged.

Accepting your body boosts confidence 

I admire how comfortable Japanese women are with their bodies in the onsen. No matter their age or physique, women don’t seem to be bothered by their tummy rolls, wrinkles, body hair, scars or marks on their bodies. Thanks to these women, I’ve gained a new level of confidence in my body. They taught me to accept it the way it is rather than wanting it to look a certain way. That realization itself is liberating. 

Nudity is nothing to be ashamed of

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© Savvy Tokyo

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I couldn't care less about body positivity.

I would prefer everyone to soap up and wash their bodies thoroughly before stepping into the tub.

17 ( +21 / -4 )

Sorry, the first rule of going to an Onsen is: Get OVER It, before you take your clothes off...but it ain't easy.. you'll get used to it :)

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I prefer when the bath is empty.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

Soap is the key. In mens' baths, all too often some dude will just throw a perfunctory splash of water on his nether bits before jumping in the tub. Yech.

Also, just curious as to why the photo accompaning the story is of a black girl, when the writer of the story is Indian? Colour me confused...

7 ( +10 / -3 )

I prefer not taking baths with other dudes.

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

Communal bathing is great and yeah, its important to feel good in your body.

Maybe I'm oversensitive, but while I now see lots of TV ads in the UK (I'm British) showing positive images of normal sized or curvy (read "would have been considered overweight 15 years ago") women, I do not see positive images of men of all shapes. I just see buff men with big biceps and six packs. One of the biggest forms of drug abuse in the UK is anabolic steriod use among men, which now extends way beyond just the bodybuilders of old. Hundreds of thousands of men are on them, with some estimates reaching over one million. As suicide and depression figures show, men are just as susceptible to mental issues as women, and for some issues more so.,body%20image%20or%20cosmetic%20reasons.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Yeah I am sick of this body positivity crap, enough already, just get clean, then get in the onsen, relax & stop talking about it!

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I prefer when the bath is empty.

Not me. I prefer it to be full of nice hot water, and outdoors in nature.

I couldn't care less about body positivity. I would prefer everyone to soap up and wash their bodies thoroughly before stepping into the tub.

Body positivity seems to be important to many women, my wife included. And the realization that no one is scrutinizing your body, and that few have "perfect" bodies, or meet the images of perfect bodies, allows people to relax.

Yeah I am sick of this body positivity crap, enough already, just get clean, then get in the onsen, relax & stop talking about it!

Agree with the sentiments that people get clean before getting in the tub.

I wonder if this writer and her sister will ever take the next step and enter the world of mixed bathing. For those uninitiated, it is similar to the baby step to being able to go to the sento or onsen in the first place. There is safety in numbers, even if it is just psychological.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Brought to you by the Japan Onsen Association.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I do not find Onsen hygienic.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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