Naked by Noon: A Traditional Japanese Onsen Narrative

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I woke up on my last day in Tokyo with few expectations. By 11 am, I had to somehow explain to my insecurities that I would be naked by noon– in front of strangers.

Displaying Japan from a rural posture, Narita expelled the manifestation of industry and excitement often associated with this nation’s beloved capital. After spending the past few days engulfed in the vibrancy of Tokyo, this place almost caused me to ask, “Am I really in Japan?” As moisture-laden air continually padded my nostrils with no visual signs of water, I remembered that I was indeed on an island– Honshu– of a greater archipelago. Then, I was reassured, “I am truly in Japan.”

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As traditional onsens only welcome you to their waters completely naked, I was both fascinated and frightened. However, I wanted so badly to partake because the idea of it provoked my anxieties as a much as it intrigued my peace. So, though I wanted to make it happen, I was uncertain of how the experience would be. Those were the troubling thoughts that accompanied me on the journey until they were interrupted by simply looking around.

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A smooth white sky stretched itself to each edge of our horizons, and the seemingly deserted province retained a gentle silver glow. My walk to the onsen was narrow with traditional houses and a few semi-modern cars studding a trail of greenery, and as I turned my head, open fields of damp air and farmland gracefully traveled to end of the skyline.

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Our group finally arrived at Yamato No Yu after a tranquil stroll that was only disturbed by half a handful of cars. At the end of a route that was close to pleasant poetry, my feelings to follow would quickly be overwhelmed by harsh nerves.

*******

I felt the humid air from the springs confront my body, and then, the eyes– dark and curious. The stares were matters that I slowly accepted in public, but not yet accepted while unprotected by makeup… or clothing. However, a decision had to be made– exist awkwardly or honestly.

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Pressing my feet against the warm stones, I guided myself to a cozy corner of the dark  pool. I floated in the black, mineral-rich water while calming myself as the insecure apprehensions abandoned my body. I finally began to notice how the water soothed my skin and how the rippling heat massaged my muscles. I thought of the beautiful walk I just had before. I remembered I was in a place of which I had dreamed to see since five. I started to love these moments as I shed my uneasiness. Then, I happily forgot how to focus.

As I gently relaxed, I could embrace the character of this ancient practice. It was only natural to become as serene as the springs. The tranquilizing currents and a cooling breeze rivaled in a game of tug of war for my next moments. I chose to separate from the water, still bare but not nearly as afraid, and rock in wooden chair in the kind winds.

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After lunch, I gently inhaled Narita’s damp air for almost another mile, contentedly passing a familiar enchanting landscape. Pieces of Japan’s inherited earth gave me an unusually comforting afternoon, and I was thankful. From the springs of this land’s cultural charm, I floated in a new lesson–

Something which requires me to endure in my most vulnerable condition could mean that, maybe, I can leave in a freer form.

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(Special thanks to Yamato No Yu for taking care of our group for this experience!)

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