NUDE BATHING: Just look at these happy individuals enjoying themselves. No one told them that boys and girls can’t jump into the same hot spring and enjoy a bit of mixed bathing. Japan’s snow monkeys are free to do as they like.
The same cannot be said for their human cousins. I was staying in the region with friends and they told me about the problems facing the hot spring spa industry.
At this stage, I should explain that hot spring spas are an institution in Japan, which is not surprising because the country is overrun with volcanoes. Bathing is done with clothes off and most pools are segregated. A few are open for mixed bathing.
The spas provide minuscule towels. They serve three needs. The first is modesty. Bathing costumes are not allowed and many bathers feel the need for some sort of covering as they make their way from the changing rooms to the side of the pool. The second reason is advertising. The resort’s name is on the towels and customers are expected to souvenir them. The third reason is drying but how you dry with such a small item beats me.
Many spas struggle to attract enough customers and some resort to gimmicks to keep going. Some young guys told me about a fabulous spa they used to visit before the municipality shut it down.
Their account was given in Japanese and no one was game to call on my wife or any of the other ladies for an accurate translation so I may have got a few details wrong.
As far as I can make out, mixed bathing was allowed on certain nights and entry was restricted to older teenagers. There were separate changing rooms but everyone got into the same big pool.
The girls got in at one end and the boys got in at the other. There was a rope at the halfway mark and the bathers were allowed to swim to it and talk. Underwater viewing masks were banned. Touching was strictly out.
I’m aware of fundamental errors in my command of the Japanese language. However, there are limits to my mistakes. I sometimes confuse left and right. I never confuse male and female. So, unless I got the whole thing hopelessly back-to-front, it was the girls who started touching and that was the cause of the fuss.
A journalist with one of the local newspapers claimed that the young ladies ran a competition to see how many boys they could touch, awarding points according to where contact was made. The article caused an outcry of indignation from parent and teacher organisations. The licensing authority made threatening noises and the spa’s owners were obliged to insert a second rope, several metres back from the first.
That didn’t work. Some of the girls were top swimmers and upped their scores with record-breaking dives. In the end, the spa was required to impose fully segregated bathing for all young people and that was very bad for business. It was already struggling and the further restrictions forced it to close.
My wife and I spend a lot of time in Japan. She speaks Japanese fluently. I struggle by the best I can. Japan is a fascinating country and a great place to site a mystery novel. One is forming in my mind.
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