In Japan, communal bathing at hot springs (onsen) or neighborhood public baths (sento) is usually a single-sex activity. An exception, though, is made for young children. In much the same way as no one freaks out over a father taking his preschool-age daughter into a public men’s room to use the bathroom, or a mother taking her son of the same age into the ladies’ room, little kids can generally use either the men’s or women’s bath, as long as they’re accompanied by a parent of the corresponding sex.
Of course, at some age that leniency expires, and boys become barred from the women’s bath, and girls from the men’s. Culturally speaking, the cut-off age is sort of a gray area, but in Tokyo the law currently says that children in the opposite sex’s bath area must be no older than 9. However, that’s likely to change soon, as according to news service FNN Prime the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will soon be knocking the age limit down to six years old.
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare conducted a survey, asking at what age it becomes “embarrassing” for a child to be in the opposite sex’s bath. Whether the responses came from children themselves or adults is unclear, but the results were:
● 5 years old: 16.1 percent
● 6 years old: 27 percent
● 7 years old: 21.2 percent
● 8 years old: 13.4 percent
● 9 years old: 7 percent
● Other: 15.3 percent
A key factor in six years old being the most common answer is likely that that’s also the age at which most Japanese children start elementary school. It’s possible that a six-year-old in a neighborhood sento could theoretically end up having to share a bathtub with an opposite-sex classmate who’s with their respective-sex parent, which could make for an uncomfortable atmosphere in the classroom.
That might make it sound like limiting opposite-sex bath admission to children five or younger would be the more sensible decision, but with most Japanese children celebrating their sixth birthday before finishing preschool, it’s likely the switch to a “six years old or younger” rule is considered the simpler, most easily implemented change.
FNN claims that at the urging of the national government, the new age limit for mixed bathing in Tokyo is likely to be formally approved by the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in June, and put into effect shortly thereafter.
Source: FNN Prime Online
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