Naked and Afraid, but in Japan.

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The entrance to the Sento I went to. 

These past few weeks, Japan has been unexpectedly met with many earthquakes, floods, landslides, and evacuations. As a byproduct, it is normal for buses, monorails, Shinkansen (bullet train), planes, etc. to be either delayed or stopped completely. Something that didn’t cross my mind though, is traffic. Originally, I was going to go to Hiroshima and Kinosaki over the weekend, but the weather conditions had made it dangerous to proceed. A 3-hour bus and ferry ride to Hiroshima would’ve taken well over 10 hours, and it is also one of the places being heavily impacted by the weather. However, I still had a desire to go to an onsen (hot spring) to decompress from the stress that comes with being an intensive language program, and just being in a different environment. The weather conditions limited the places I could travel to, but I had remembered my host mother mentioning a sento (bath house) nearby, so I figured now was the time to go for it. She told me there was a free shuttle nearby that went directly to it, and we decided to go together. Which sounded great in theory, but a fear I had with going to an onsen on a school trip was being nude with someone I know.


Part of the sento.

Being naked around strangers was terrifying, but at least you know you’ll never see them again which helps with relaxing. I’m terribly shy and self-conscious though, so being around someone I know is a different story. My supporter was initially puzzled when I stated I would go to a different onsen than her if we had gone to Kinosaki together, but then realized even though it’s common to bathe and socialize together in Japan, it wasn’t something common in the U.S. Regardless, my host mother and her adorable baby (it was the baby’s first time too!) were coming with me, and I had to figure out how to navigate that uncomfortableness. The baths are separated by gender, which is important to keep in mind if you are trans without surgery, non-binary, etc. because there are essentially two options, and both will lead to nudity. Being gender non-conforming, I was a bit nervous I would attract looks, but everyone was too busy enjoying the different baths to pay any mind. With everyone, I essentially just kept my eyes at face level or gazed at the bath I was going to, so it was not as intimidating as I thought it was. I’m not sure if I could do it with someone around my age that I knew though, but it was a step forward.

Soondubu at the dining area.

They had a green bamboo bath in celebration of tanabata which was amazing, but I was surprised by the many options. There was a luke-warm bath, a salt bath, a milk bath, a cold water bath, a water jet bath, a place with an inch of water where you could just lay down, and also my personal favorite – the giant pot. Just a giant pot you could climb into, and vegetate in. Unfortunately, there was an electro-stimulating water pot that I accidentally entered at first, and that one was painful. Everything else though, was a very pleasant experience. They also had a mini sauna outside which offered a salt sauna option or a Chinese medicine section! But after trying out most of the many options, we decided to finish up and grab lunch. Almost every if not every bath house and onsen serves food on the side, and to my happy luck, I had soondubu (Korean tofu soup)!


The tatami mat room!

Following that, I spent the next few hours laying and studying in the tatami mat room. Overall, I enjoyed my time here, reflecting upon my experience led me to three lessons I’ve encountered:

  1. When things change or don’t go the way you expected, let that take you to another fun adventure.
  2. If you’re scared, the best way to conquer it, is to just face it head on.
  3. Avoid the electro-stimulating pot if you can.