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Naked Women Japan Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty Images
Sinking into the almost too-hot bath, aches melting from my desk-weary muscles, I nodded politely to the women opposite. Half-familiar from the neighbourhood, we agreed that the waters were surprisingly hot, all the while submerging our bare shoulders just a little deeper. Steam-filled and tranquil, public baths in Japan have been a haven from the stresses of daily life for more than 1, years. While the natural hot springs known as onsen are familiar worldwide, and can be private or public, there are also the lesser-known sento — public baths relying on regular, filtered water. Found in almost every neighbourhood and requiring complete nudity, both types of communal bathhouses have a set of strict rules on washing etiquette before entering the pristine, soap-free waters and offer a space for friends, families and even co-workers to relax and connect. These days, nearly every home in Japan has a deep-set tub perfect for a private soak and the popularity of a public dip is waning , but nowhere near as much as you might expect.
For many Westerners, though, the fact that these traditions involve being naked with strangers is awkward at best, even though men and women bathe separately. I suggested a different town that had an attraction I wanted to see, and thought I was off the hook. I should have done my research better: That town was famous for its onsen as well. Two terms are basic when talking about Japanese baths: onsen and sento. An onsen has natural hot spring water.
Inside, the walls were lined with metal lockers and there were no curtains, no changing areas. When I entered the bathhouse, I immediately removed my shoes. In Japan, shoes are almost never worn indoors. You slip them off as naturally as you would close an umbrella before entering a house.