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Why Japanese people are comfortable with nakedness

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Japanese are often described as polite, hard-working, yet passive or shy. But one area Japanese people are not shy about is when it comes to nudity. Feudal peasants wore nothing more than a loin cloth — and it seems not much has changed when we look at the sumo wrestlers’ miniscule uniform. Girls are wearing shorter skirts each year. Tradition and pop culture is telling Japanese people to remove much more than their shoes. More skin, no clothes, and nudity has become normalized and even celebrated throughout society.

As a child grows up in Japan, he or she begins to watch anime and read manga (comic books). As they become older, the subject matter of anime and manga turns more sophisticated and often sexual. Characters explore their sexuality or live out sexual fantasies. And this is what viewers and readers want. They become more normalized to “fan service” scenes of bikini-clad school girls or office worker up skirt cutaways, so they want more to feed their appetite. This explains why the “Rapeman” character was born then stalked and abducted women in the late '80s and '90s through a manga series, anime, and several live action films.

Another reason why Japanese are accustomed to being naked is Japan’s love of bathing. It is common for children to bathe with parents in the home. Moreover, everyone gets naked at an onsen or hot spring. Although most etiquette books recommend a small towel to cover the necessities, anyone that has really been to an onsen knows that this rarely happens. Men let it hang out as if it was a competition while older women in their separate adjacent hot spring are giving the younger crowd a clear view of what they have to look forward to when they age. Bathing and walking from bath to bath is done with little shame.

While sexuality is not encouraged in most Western religions, Japan’s native Shinto religion is more open-minded. Shinto religion stresses the importance of kami or deities in nature. Like it or not, we were each born because someone did the nasty. It’s completely natural. This is not considered gross, but is celebrated at Shinto shrines or festivals with large phallic objects. Furthermore, Shinto and Buddhism, both practiced and often blended in Japanese beliefs, do not consider most forms of sexuality to be sacrilegious.

Then there is the kinky stuff. Some Japanese like to unwind in the red light districts of Japan. Prostitution has been strictly banned since shortly after WWII, but legal restrictions are vague. The result is many sexual services that are not technically sex, but in many ways can still be considered as such. Explicit advertisements decorate the outside of these establishments which are occasionally posted right on the sidewalk where pedestrians, including families, may wander.

We’re born naked and Japan seems to like it that way. Through early beginnings in the bath or in the comic book to the red light districts, Japan is very comfortable with nakedness. It is even celebrated each year in the Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival) in Okayama through half naked men running around as spectators view floats and eat candy in the shape of male child-creators.

© Japan Today

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63 Comments
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Funny though how Japanese are horrified by the idea of laying topless at the beach...

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Japanese people may be comfortable with nakedness, but only as long as it's someone else's.

Ever see a high school girl in a super-miniskirt walk up a stairway with one hand holding her skirt down so that no one can see her pants?

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Right... this article is nothing but superficial stereotyping.

31 ( +31 / -0 )

Feeling good about being naked is simply about the way you perceive your body. If you see your body as a tool rather than a symbol of attractiveness you should be able to change your perception and alter judgement thereby increasing confidence in yourself. Never compare, get and keep in shape, eat right and learn to accept your beautiful naked body.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

We’re born naked and Japan seems to like it that way.

Riiight... That's why public hair must be blotted out not just in pornography but in main stream western films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc. That's why women are so afraid of showing a little cleavage. That's why there are so many nude beaches in Japan... I agree there are some aspects suggesting an openness towards nudity (bathing being about the only one I can think of at the moment). I think the author here is confusing openness towards nudity and an openness towards sexuality.

28 ( +27 / -0 )

Feeling good about being naked is simply about the way you perceive your body.

Doesn't explain why I have pretty sweet runner's legs, but hate wearing shorts.

If you see your body as a tool rather than a symbol of attractiveness you should be able to change your perception and alter judgement thereby increasing confidence in yourself.

What if your discomfort is based on how your particular society views the body? After all, there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good because you feel normal.

Never compare, get and keep in shape, eat right and learn to accept your beautiful naked body.

I accepted my beautiful body some time ago, along with all its little quirks. Among them, the desire to maintain an aura of mystery (and modesty) by not hanging everything out for the world to see.

@Combinibento

I think the author here is confusing openness towards nudity and an openness towards sexuality.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. This is very much an ethnocentric analysis.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Seems like a stereotype to me. In order to state something like that you need more than some anecdotal evidence. All it proves is that foreigners from some countries may get that impression. As stated above, one could easily write an article about Japan being afraid of nudity...

8 ( +8 / -0 )

This a stupid article! Japan is NOT a Christian country, not Muslim etc..so the Japanese do not run around feeling ashamed of their bodies, Japanese families take baths together, no big deal here. Say that you wash your kids back in the USA and OH MY GOD the parents must be freaks! Must be you name it! America etc..is the one with all of the hangups on nudity, but this is all just an over simplification. Most Japanese girls feel it is dangerous to show "too much" skin on trains, etc..plenty of perverts here on the islands, right??

0 ( +6 / -6 )

@Elbuda - most japanese girls DO NOT feel it is dangerous to show "too much" - ride any trains lately, teach in any schools where there are girls????? go up an stairs or escalators lately? pants, pants, pants that is all i see.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Nude okay, eatting and kissing in public a big no no... don't get it.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

gogogo-san,

Each culture and each generation has its own quirks.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of Japanese who don't kiss.

At all.

Not even in private.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

While sexuality is not encouraged in most Western religions, Japan’s native Shinto religion is more open-minded.

That's probably why every year on sexual activity surveys Japan ranks last...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I don't think that Christianity has much to do with it. In (some parts of) Europe nudity or sex isn't that big of a deal and there are a lot of Christians there. Just because there are public baths or mangas and animes with sexual contents do not necessarily mean that Japan is "comfortable" with nudity or sex. Go naked in public in Japan and I'm sure that people will freak out. Japanese people rarely talk about sex openly in public. In fact sex is taboo in Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I notice a lot of these types of articles are written for an audience that has little to no experience or knowledge of living in Japan. They are always based on an observation that something in Japan is different from what exists in the United States and then proceed under the assumption that Japan is the outlier whose deviation must be explained.

I can see how this would be of some interest in a travel publication or something, but for anyone who has ever been to Japan most of the observations made are quite obvious and not very interesting.

Also there is inevitably a tendency to describe these things as though they were recent trends that are growing, which usually isnt the case. Women arent wearing shorter skirts now then they were 10 years ago (or 40 years ago for that matter). Nudity hasnt become normalized, Ive been here for more than a decade and have never seen a naked person in public (unless old men relieving themselves on the side of streets counts). Some customs (communal bathing, lack of a religion that views sex as sinful,etc) obviously allow for nudity and undoubtedly make people less squeamish about it than they are in a country with a puritanical heritage like the US, but I think the US is more of an outlier than Japan in that regard.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

I think the author is confusing "comfortable with nakedness" with "don't mind if the same sex sees you naked". Most girls wouldn't wear bikinis because it shows too much skin, and many guys would be uncomfortable around a girl with even a bikini. They have pretty tight limits, which usually don't go beyond the bath and occasional matsuri.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Obviously written from a Western point of view that automatically links nudity with sexuality. I'd argue that being comfortable naked in a public bath--a narrowly prescribed environment that is not truly "public" in the first place--has nothing to do with wanting to wear skimpy clothing, or the extreme sexualization of women in popular culture.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I think Elbuda has made an excellent point.

When you think about it, there is no reason why we should NOT be comfortable with nakedness. Doesn't bother animals one bit. I think that religion, or religious beliefs in society at the very least (especially Catholicism), are largely responsible for western society's negative views on nudity. Look at the Romans and the Greeks, they created beautiful works of art featuring naked men and women without batting an eyelid. The closest thing to nudity in the Christian church is the Sistine Chapel. Then we had the Catholic church's version of the mosaic - the fig leaf.

Japanese people, while subjected to other nefarious forms of propaganda, are fortunate in that they grow up in a society free of the 'original sin' nonsense, unlike us in the west. And that goes a long way.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

shrug ..... only people with dirty minds thinks nudity is dirty. i have no problem with it. our family sometimes all bathe together. i don't even bother to cover up in public onsen and neither does my husband.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The oversexualization of women in Japan is not an argument for "Japan being comfortable with nakedness." Porn depicting rape and fan service shots don't make a more laid back society, but one with train gropers. Girls who wear short skirts do it because society tells them it's cute and sexy, and even lame to keep your skirt long, no reason deeper than that.

Japanese people are comfortable with nudity in one situation, in modern day Japan - onsen. Do you ever see anyone walking down the street naked because it's more natural and Shinto?

I'm all for nakedness and whatever. But citing rape manga as a source... wow.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

This is article is bull! if Japanese are comfortable with nakedness, then why those mosaic's on tv whenever there is a foreign/japanese movie where they show the delicate parts, even in Onsen's i see (mostly young guys) using their small towel to cover up.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I'm quite comfortable with Japanese nakedness too, frequently.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japan is no Victorian England, to be sure, but given that you are not allowed to show pubic hair in magazines, manga, TV, or movies, and that full frontal nudity, while normal even on TV in many nations, is a major faux pas and covered in mosaic if not edited out entirely.

Yes, as with everywhere else in the world girls are wearing shorter skirts, and girl bands in particular are being pimped out to make middle-aged men drool, but that's a FAR cry from them strutting on stage in the nude.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Nudity in Japan is tolerated as long as it is gender segregated. Otherwise, the titters begin. Personally, I find the fascination with poo (not the cartoon character) much more unique.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

this article is nothing but superficial stereotyping.

How ironic.

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

First of all censorship of pubic hair is a relic that was adopted from the western civililization AFTER the Meji Restoration. During the edo period all Ukiyo-e didn't give a damn. Same with homosexualism. If you read Japanese literature during the edo period it was called "Danshoku(男色)" and although it was a minority it never carried the stigma like it does in Christian society. Same with sex where elder more experienced taught safe and joy of sex to the younger after coming of age in rural areas. Sex technique manuals were a must for all newlywed brides to take to their new home and it was the duty of the mother to give it to the bride before the wedding.

During the edo peiod all public baths were co-ed. It was segragated after westeners came to Japan after the Meji restoration stated it was "Barbaric" to have male and female nude in the same room. That mind set became popular due to the "Datsua Nyuou(脱亜入欧)" movement of the time.

Japan culture in general was more lax when it comes to sex before Christian ideology came.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

The Japanese attitude toward nudity certainly is an interesting subject, but unfortunately the author's shallow treatment and his confusion with sexuality, despite "having lived the Japan experience," leaves a lot to be desired.

8 ( +9 / -2 )

A very difficult topic to reach conclusions in a short article. I thought the author quite brave until I read:

Men let it hang out as if it was a competition while older women in their separate adjacent hot spring are giving the younger crowd a clear view of what they have to look forward to when they age.

This diminishes any serious explanation the article tries to make.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I feel I was mislead by the article's title. I thought it would by about Japanese attitude towards nudity, but it went on to cover manga, clothing, etc. I think you could write a book on all these things.

Family bathing, prostitution, "health" services, sexy clothing, underage exhibitionists, ero-anything, that is all part of Japan, as in the kind of things that are alright to exist, but are uncomfortable to talk about. Only onsen is somewhat seen as something more positive because the natives say that "friends have nothing to hide", or something like that.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Men let it hang out as if it was a competition

Most of the time many men seem to be walking around using that ridiculously small towelette to cover up.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As others have said, there is a big gap between public, as in general public, and pseudo-public places and tolerance for skin. The vast majority of places mentioned in the article aren't really public (in the former definition) at all.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

SamuraiBlue: "Japan culture in general was more lax when it comes to sex before Christian ideology came."

So Japan cannot decide for itself? or is it just the victim (again). In any case, the lame excuses offered by you don't change the facts that the author of this article is completely wrong, and Japan still does not enjoy the 'nakedness' that other nations do.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Vast Right-Wing: No kidding. I don't mean any offense to JT, but I sometimes wonder what the submission requirements are for fluff pieces like this. This article is SOOOOO off the mark, and the saddest part is that people back in the nation where the author is from probably read it and take it as gospel because the guy's been here (for a short time and in a limited sphere, evidently).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese are often described as polite, hard-working,

Are you sure?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Japan culture in general was more lax when it comes to sex before Christian ideology came.

Still seems to be the same to me.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

We’re born naked and Japan seems to like it that way.

Really? Go to a beach. Girls wear those cover-up style bathing suits.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

smithinjapan

You are the only one I know that can make flaming comments from plain fact. Geez, get over it.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

This is article is bull! if Japanese are comfortable with nakedness, then why those mosaic's on tv whenever there is a foreign/japanese movie where they show the delicate parts, even in Onsen's i see (mostly young guys) using their small towel to cover up.

I think there needs to be a distinction between the context. Samurai Blue above describes changes in attitudes to sexulaity that have come about in the past 150 years.

At an onsen or sento, people are completely at ease with nudity, in a way that many Westerners would not be. Also bringing a young girl into the men's section would be a no-no. Having an obaachan fussing around the men's changing room of the sento would also make many feel uncomforatable. In Japan, no one seems to care - a far healthier attitude IMO.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Men let it hang out as if it was a competition

OMG that is so funny! But not really, most of the time they cover themselves with a towel. One thing I don't understand, why bringing your eye glasses to the bathing area?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's the context of the nudity. If you're a guy playing frisbee topless in the park or jogging down a city street, you'll see how uncomfortable Japanese are about nudity.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

At an onsen or sento, people are completely at ease with nudity, in a way that many Westerners would not be.

By Westerners you mean "Americans".

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This article totally misses its point by mixing sexuality & nakedness. They may be linked through some patterns (ex: a Judeo-Christian education), but are two fairly different concepts. Plus, a vast swath of stereotypes & extreme imagery finishes to discredit any ounce of attempt at journalism or at trying to interest me/other people.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The naked truth!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ask Japanese about it, and they come back from Europe and the US thinking Japanese are the conservative ones.

I think this idea that Westerners are Christians who hate sex and their bodies, while Japanese are Buddhists/shintoists who get naked and have sex without a thought is a overdone.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is funny that here in Japan, supposedly nudity is so relaxed as compared to the USA, but I have German friends,etc..hey the weather is too hot say in Germany, and many people just take off all of their clothes right there in the middle of a public park, do that here in Japan and see what happens! Most likely arrested ASAP!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Bo-o-o-o-o-gus! Justin, I'm sure you'll agree that the Brits (of which I'm one) are probably one of the most prudish nations on earth, but just talk to anyone who went to a public school, or anyone who played rugby, and you'll see that public, or at least group, nakedness is accepted as totally normal. Being comfortable naked is absolutely not simply a matter of nationality -- unless you're American, and come from a land where you have to call a lavatory a restroom, a bathroom or even a comfort station.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Firstly, nudity and sex are hardly the same. Secondly, most of "the west" is nowhere near as prudish as the USA.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I'll admit I was pleasantly surprised when I went to a unisex outdoor onsen where voluptuous females were showing off their curves. Of course they were treated to glimpses of my awesome body, ha ha!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A pretty stereotypical article to say the least.. There are lots of "western" people who are very comfortable with nudity. Dont the Germans have a lot of nudist beaches? I think a lot of countries do. And I think we could come up with a lot more examples. Just because a few people might have made a comment at an onsen over the years, doesnt mean everyone is uncomfortable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

why bringing your eye glasses to the bathing area?

Exactly, for many I would think this is the perfect time not to have perfect vision.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All nations have different ways of accepting nudity. Go to England for example and nudity in public is completely within the law -sexual misdemeanours in public is not-, tv has no qualms with showing nudity, you can say the same for much of Europe. I think the article should be rewritten "Why American people are so uncomfortable with nakidity" There are many Japanese people who cant stand the idea of getting naked in public, and those who cant seem to take their clothes off often enough. Too many variables even within one culture, like I said.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One thing I don't understand, why bringing your eye glasses to the bathing area?

So you can see your feet and where you are stepping. I was extremely near-sighted (only 10 cm clear vision) before eye surgery and could not distinguish the often uneven steps down into the onsen pool. Steamed up eye-glasses were a safer bet than stumbling, stubbing my toes and injuring myself going in and out of the water. Only way I could swim in a Western style pool was to wear prescription goggles.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is a true story: one day I was at the local sento toweling off, suddenly I caught a man's eyes who was approaching my handsome self at a rapid rate of knots..... coming to a screeching halt he looks down at my third leg and says with all the sincereity of a connoiseur, "りっぱなちんちんですね!”"That's a great looking penis you have there!" I was a little shocked and ran his compliment through my mind again, sure that I had heard my wife scream out this adjective, noun combo when we are in the middle of our weekly bedroom gymnastics session. I said thanks, then suddenly two of his friends approached him and again he pointed to my one-eyed-pirate and repeated the compliment, they all agreed that yes, his evaluation of this foreign sausage was indeed correct. But what really surprised me was the normalacy of the topic. We just wouldn't walk up to a complete stranger and compliment on his penis as though it were a killer tattoo or a bulging set of bicepts. There was nothing homosexual about his compliment it was just an ice-breaker to start of a little convo about me and where I came from. I have about half a dozen similar incidents that always make me smile! When asked to explain why the Japanese do these things by my family back home, I always reply, "It's a buddhist thing!"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@yasukuni

Don't you just hate that? I've given up going to sentos... ; )

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

SamuraiBlue: "You are the only one I know that can make flaming comments from plain fact. Geez, get over it"

Sadly, you're not the only one I know who takes offense to anything negatigve if Japan is in the same sentence, and then twists it to make Japan a victim and not able to decide for or control itself.

nishiyoshi: " But what really surprised me was the normalacy of the topic. We just wouldn't walk up to a complete stranger and compliment on his penis as though it were a killer tattoo or a bulging set of bicepts."

Dude, there's nothing 'normal' about that at all. They did it because you are a foreigner, which by definition means outside the norm. Do you think these same guys would walk up to some Japanese (or an Asian they assume is Japanese) and start commenting on his penis? No way they would! and hence it is AGAINST the nature of the story at hand -- that it's the norm.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I have never, ever, in my entire time in Japan, seen a man walking around with his top off in summer, to cite one example of how the generalizations in this article are so wrong.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

that's because it's (apparently): "illegal" here in japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why Japanese people are comfortable with nakedness

They didn't seem so comfortable with that SMAP bloke, Tsuyoshi, getting naked. He got hauled in and booked if I remember correctly!

I guess it depends on the person getting naked - and nakedness is only acceptable in a bath or gym. You just don't see topless girls in parks or on beaches here in summer like I have seen in Europe or even back home in Sydney beaches - Japanese ladies seem culturally ashamed by the prospect. More's the shame!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

women in their separate adjacent hot spring are giving the younger crowd a clear view of what they have to look forward to when they age.

Brilliant!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

By Westerners you mean "Americans".

Admittedly the person who thought that taking a 7 year old girl into the men's section of the onsen was "inappropriate" was American.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan is Japan, it is puzzling and become very difficult to understand Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

M0ral T0 Thee Story: Japan has our own acceptable nudity. Pornography " blur out " the private parts but Comics ( manga ) show it ALL. Public baths are okay to show your goodies. But nudity at public beaches is a no-no. Wearing a beard & mustache at work is bad also having tattoos is BAD in Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hi,sorry just came to know this article. Interesting, I have never been to Japan...yet! Being said that, never been exposed personally to Japanese culture or lifestyle yet, but I have a huge respect to the culture. This respect gained through my readings about Japanese happenings from time to time, news and etc. Being myself, i would not like to be judgmental on the subject of nudity. If it is part of the culture, well and good...it will have a positive impact on a growing child until and unless a person from a different upbringing or culture interrupt the process and tries to change the view! Then it will create guilt! I agree with Samurai Blue, anyway! Just a typo error..."pubic hair" ~ pubic hair!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

AH I sort of get it now, though it isn't funny to fall upon such view while watching anime or reading manga

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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