Hot Spring baths in Japan

 They are an institution in Japan, which is not surprising because the country is overrun with volcanoes. The mist in mountain gullies is often not mist at all. It’s steam rising from cracks in the ground. And that smell of bad eggs has nothing to do with eggs. It’s sulphur dioxide ... the price you pay for having a continual supply of hot water. Many country inns have hot spring baths and these are usually private. Spas have big pools as well as private baths.

 Bathing is done with clothes off and most pools are segregated. A few allow mixed bathing. Whether you bathe privately or with others it is important to wash first. The hot spring baths in the inns may look like big wash tubs but they are not for that purpose. A washroom is always provided and you use that first. You will find low stools and bowls for hot water. Squat on a stool, smear yourself with soap, scrub thoroughly then take a shower to get rid of the soap.

 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 washroom 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. 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 entry was, on certain nights, restricted to older teenagers. There were separate washrooms but bathing was mixed. The girls stripped off and got in at one end and the boys did the same 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 and 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’m sure that I never confuse male and female. So, unless I got the whole thing hopelessly back-tofront, 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, a couple of metres back from the first. That didn’t work. Some of the girls were top swimmers and upped their scores with record-breaking, breath-hold 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. The whole thing reminded me of an episode in Townsville, where I had my backpacker hostel. A beer garden was holding mud-wrestling competitions for buxom girls in floppy tops and the local wowsers (Aussie for killjoys) got the whole thing stopped. One lady even picketed the place and that was bad for business. You can read about the sad incident in my book Free Beer and Sex. Photo: The snow monkeys like to take a bath. These lucky boys and girls are at their favorite spa in the mountains near Nikko.

 Getting dry and leaving the water for a bite to eat always pose problems for them. To make matters worse, notices, in multiple languages, tell humans not to feed the bathers. Discarded chocolate wrappers and remnants of sushi rolls tell another tale.

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