Before you go and get the wrong idea about me, I’d just like to make it clear that I was at an outdoor Onsen (think ‘spa’ but with natural volcanic hot springs instead of Jacuzzis) and in Japan, communal bathing sans clothing is how you roll.
So there I was, in this picturesque hot spring resort in the mountains, surrounded by snow and fir trees, a rushing river, cages of live black bears and…the very picturesque view of very fat, very naked, Japanese men.
Yes, I was at a mixed-gender Onsen, which roughly translates to “a few dozen men and four women sitting in a miniature swimming pool -sized bath tub. Outside. In the snow. Naked.”
And apparently there’s a sort of unspoken code of conduct for a mixed-gender Onsen, one that involves rules for appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Apparently, if you’re male, it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in the bath in your birthday suit or with a wash-cloth sized towel strategically placed across your lap. It’s inappropriate, however, for a female to do the same. If you’re female, you’re supposed to wrap a large towel around you and wear it mini-dress style wherever you go. Yes, even in the bath. Especially in the bath.
My Australian friend and I weren’t aware of these rules and weren’t even aware of our mistake until about 20 minutes after we’d settled into the bath, minus a towel, (dress size or otherwise). Most everyone I’ve told this story to have interrupted me at this point to exclaim incredulously: “How could you have not realized?!” But about 95% of the people in the Onsen were male and therefore towel-less and honestly, we spent most of that time trying very hard not to look at anyone and carry on a normal conversation, (as in “Ho hum, just another normal day, bathing outdoors in the middle of winter with a tub full of strangers.”).