Mixed-sex communal bathing has been a common practice in Japan since hundreds of years back. However due to modernisation and western influence, “Konyokuburo” (mixed-gender public onsens) are now becoming increasing rare as Japanese social mindset changes.
The basic rule of onsen is bathers must only be in their birthday suits. Most onsens in the country still adhere to this rule, but this applies mostly to only those gender-segregated ones.
The Konyokuburos (already a minority) located in major cities either require bathers to wear swimsuits or wrap towels across their bodies for modesty reasons, or are accessible to private booking only.
Personally I feel that wearing clothing into the water goes against the principle of enjoying a relaxed onsen experience. I mean, isn’t it any much different from taking a soak in a swimming pool??
And the special thing of appearing naked in front of others is the feeling of losing that inhibition of being clothed.
It is said that ‘clothing-optional’ / ‘strictly-no-clothing’ mixed-gender public onsens can still be found in rural parts of Japan. However, these places are often quite inaccessible especially to tourists (like me).
I have read some stories posted by onsen enthusiasts that they still encounter women who are okay to go nude in the presence of other men in these Konyokuburo.
Yet I doubt the chances of seeing one is high. Since the younger generation of Japanese are generally more uptight about public nudity, the probability of encountering a granny in a Konyokuburo is much higher in my opinion. =P
The decrease in no. of women going to Konyokuburo is also largely due to more men not following the social etiquette of not staring at the ladies’ private parts.
Personally, I think it is okay to take quick glances at her breasts & vaginal area. It is unrealistic to expect any straight males to not look at all. Surely the lady would not expect that either, and I’m sure any woman would do a quick check out of the penis too when come face-to-face with a naked man when at the bath house. Yet, staring is definitely bound to make the woman uncomfortable.
I had never gone to a mixed-gender onsen before. Then what is my likely reaction should I appear naked in front of women at the bath? While I believe sexuality shouldn’t be associated to mixed-gender bathing, I guess it’s highly probable I would still erect at certain times during the bath.. esp when there are attractive gals around. Probably it will take a couple of more such occasions to make my body realise that appearing nude in front of women other than my wife is not a big deal after all.
Me and wife, being onsen lovers, would love to enjoy a beautiful outdoor onsen together and I do not mind other men seeing my wife’s body in a onsen setting. She doesn’t mind going to a Konyokuburo too although not extremely keen in the prospect of appearing nude in front of other men.
However, if she is going to feel uncomfortable of being stared at by half a dozen of men, which is likely if the no. of men far outnumber the women, then I would rather she goes to the female bath.
I really hope if my lifetime, I am able to go to a beautiful Konyokuburo at least once. Of course, I would be lying if I say that I’m not hopeful to encounter any attractive-looking naked gals! If no, a good soak will do just fine 🙂 ;