Onsens: are they the answer to GID and BDM?

One good thing about living in the most seismically active region on the planet is the volcanic hot springs, located among the mountains, lakes and rivers and sea. In the days before people had baths in their homes everyone would wash in the village communal bathhouse.
I decided on showing you a men’s onsen, because there are enough naked women on the net already.

Enjoying an Onsen

Not as aesthetically pleasing as women are they, but I digress.

GID (Gender Identity DIsorder) and BDM (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) are problems of the rich countries. I place the blame firmly at the feet of the corporations, pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions that are making money out of people’s misery, and the governments that allow them to do so .

In 1982, Daniel Arap Moi, president of Kenya, outlawed breast implant surgery after learning that fourteen women had died from complications. Nobody knows the death toll of this unecessary surgery in the U.S and Britain, because our governments haven’t bothered to keep count. After all it’s only women dying, so they don’t care.

Moving swiftly on…

Although the root of the problem is the ammoral patriarchs feasting on the unhappiness (created by them) of all women and vulnerable groups of men, the situation is compounded by wealth itself. If you’re bent double planting rice all day to feed your kids you don’t have time to wonder which gender you are, or whether your breasts are too flat and bum is too fat.

I am NOT blaming the victims. I myself was desperate for breast implants at the age of fifteen. I was convinced it was the route to happiness, and that nothing else would do. I was so desperate to get the cash for breast implants that prostituting myself seemed like a reasonable option (Thankfully, I did neither in but it was a close call)

I want to take that fifteen year old girl I once was into my arms, stroke her hair and tell her she’s beautiful the way she is, and not to take any notice of all the ads at the back of her girly magazines tacitly implying that the only way she will be a “real” (fake) woman is by having surgery.

I believe there is an antidote. I think we should all spend more time nekid. Girls need to see what other women look like: pregnant women, women who have never had babies, old women with stretch marks and caesarian scars, young girls with undeveloped breasts and dimply fat on their bums.

This is what I love about Japanese Hot Springs (Onsens).

When women are naked their femininity is stripped away and all that remains is the “bedrock of femaleness”. It cannot be disguised. The XX chromozomes which are present in every cell are there for all to see. It’s in the way the women move, the way their hips swing, the way their centre of balance is rooted in the muscly legs that hold up their functional, beautiful bodies.

And the less like a “woman” she looks, the more female a woman appears to be. In an Onsen, the ultimate women are the old Babas. The ones who have been round the mill, gone through a husband or two, a baby or three. They sit there solid as the earth like statues in the corner of the onsen, watching the world outside, or taking pleasure in the little cherubs that bump into their legs. They are an institution.

THe children bump into their legs because the Babas are like tree trunks: safe, solid, reliable, always there to catch you if you lose your footing, but never imposing themselves by demanding attention, or for their presence be known. They are the essence of woman.

Sometimes they come with their mates. Three or four Babas (grandmothers) think ‘to hell with it’ and go to the hot spring for the afternoon. And they laugh. If you’re lucky you can spot them at it. Women’s laughter is such a precious commodity, especially in a culture where it must be hidden behind their hands.

Nobody wears make-up, You’re not allowed because out courtesy to the other onsen-goers you must be completely clean. So this is what you do:

Take off your clothes in the communal changing rooms and put them in a basket.

Take a small handkerchief size towel with you into the onsen itself. Then you must shower using the towel to scrub yourself thoroughly: other people don’t want to have to share the water with your dirty body. You wash your hair, face and body in view of everyone. Sometimes the showers are sectioned off, often they aren’t.

You leave your little towel on a rock and enter the onsen.

There’s usually an inside onsen and then a door leading to the outside onsen.


Men and women’s onsens are separate and children of either sex can go in either. Mixed sex onsens exist in the very rural areas, but they are regarded as old fashioned. They are quite useful for families with children.

Bumping into the same women afterwards in the tea shop is an interesting lesson in the accoutrements of femininity. It is very difficult to believe that the made-up woman with straightened, blow dried hair and the Gucci bag, sitting opposite a slick young man sipping green tea, is the very same woman who just a few moments earlier was sitting naked next to you on a rock with her hair up in a towel, and the dew of perspiration on her bright, clean skin. She looks entirely different now. Inside the Onsen all the women look the same.

And I believe the experience is good for young girls. They need to see what real women look like. There is something uplifting about seeing two teenage girls playing tag in the onsen, completely uninhibited.

The onsen culture is a true antidote to the patriarchal obsession with man-made made-up femininity imposed on our sex.

LOng may the culture live on.

OUtside onsen



13 thoughts on “Onsens: are they the answer to GID and BDM?

  1. I don’t have a problem with nudity, it is just in this hypersexualised culture of the west, it is a perverted thrill for the pervy dudes. Not that many years ago I used to be topless at the beach, but gave it up due to pervy males. But damn it felt good. Anyway, the problem is clear – absolutely nothing wrong with nudity, or the communal bathing, as long as there are NOT any males about.

    They ruin everything.

  2. Yes nudity and objectification are two completely different things. I don’t think a lot of men even find nude women that sexy; too wild, too female.
    They have to tame the nude female body with high heels, or a thong, or leather, or push up bra, in order for it to become sexy enough to appear fuckable to them.

  3. I love that Greer quotation.

    A lot of accoutrements of ancient Japan are really female-positive and uplifting. I recently read (somewhere) about how miko and their Inari dances are remnants of a female shamanic tradition around fox spirits. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

    • Hi Eve’s daughter 🙂
      I didn’t know that about miko. That is very very cool.

      I’m from Wales, which has a pagan past and paganism is everywhere in Japan. I do feel an affinity towards it. It’s very female-friendly.

      I keep meaning to do a post on the sun goddess of Japan.

  4. Ah, what a wonderful description of a beautiful experience. Yes, yes, yes, we should all get to have this kind of experience as women — to be able to just be in that place and sharing that with other women is so deeply transforming. We can come away from something like that so loving of other women and our core female selves.

    That’s what I experience at MichFest, a deep peacefulness and joy being with women and taking in all the ways that women are women. Female, as you say. We let down our guard after a few days, soon we’re showing more of our bodies, more of the time, and relaxing into being in our bodies. It’s a truly life-giving, life-affirming experience we so rarely get.

    I’m so glad to know about the Onsens, beautiful post.

  5. Oh, this is such a lovely post! Thanks, CBL. The pictures are lovely, too.

    Your description reminds of a recent run-in at the swimming pool locker room with a young girl who was incredibly free with her nudity. She must’ve been about 8 or 9, but I noticed that her mother was similarly uninhibited. It MATTERS. Parents should actively encourage a lack of self-consciousness.

    Oh AND:

    GID (Gender Identity DIsorder) and BDM (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) are problems of the rich countries. I place the blame firmly at the feet of the corporations, pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions that are making money out of people’s misery, and the governments that allow them to do so.

    AMEN to that, sister!

    • Thanks UCP 🙂

      We also need to attack the source; we need governments to legislate against the corporations, just like Daniel Arap Moi did. Mothers don’t stand a chance against the multinational conglomerates seeding information into their daughters’ minds from the age of 0. But if mothers can try to Resist not Comply then, yes, it definitely MATTERS. Onsens can help mothers resist.

  6. Hi there. I finally just found my way to your blog. This post produced a lot of good feelings in me. Just beautiful. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work!

  7. This is a beautiful post. Going to an onsen can be really lovely for women for the reasons you articulate. I just stumbled on this blog and can’t tell you how happy I am to have found it. I am a white women living in Japan with radical feminist tendencies 🙂 and am feeling rather isolated – this has made my day.

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