Mixed-gender onsen experience – a true account

Extracted from a young Caucasian lady’s travel blog

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.”).

It wasn’t until we noticed the creepy guy who was shadowing us, openly staring as we moved from bath to bath and the group of teenagers who kept darting over to our side of the bath, supposedly to admire the river view, that we realized something was amis.
These weren’t normal “Hey look at that foreign looking person” looks, they were leers. Where were all the other women? we wondered aloud. And then we noticed them, huddled close together and very conservatively, very self-consciously fully covered.

I swear, Japan needs to come with a handbook; some written instructions on how to survive here without making a complete ass of yourself.

While most of us men would fantasize taking a soak with many young & naked ladies; the reality is, in a mixed gender onsen, almost all women are fully covered up, notwithstanding the ratio of females to males is already very lob sided.

Some onsens in the rural areas of Japan still practice all-nude, mixed gender bathing.. but I read that these places are usually known only to locals, and young people hardly go there..

Well, or one might just get lucky, as in the above case. =P

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