Today is also "Sentō no hi," or "Bathhouse day," celebrating the communal bathrooms that have so long been a part of Japanese culture. Although the idea of communal bathing may seem somewhat alien to many visitors from overseas, when initial embarrassment is overcome, an invigorating soak in a "sentō" or hot spring ("onsen") can become one of the many great pleasures to be enjoyed in Japan.
J.M.W. Silver, a lieutenant in the British Royal Marines, spent a year in Japan from 1864, and compiled his observations on the local culture on his return. Although the writings are tinged by a colonial superiority typical of the day, they nonetheless provide a fascinating glimpse of cultural "first contact," viewed through the lens of European sensibilities. Here is the entry on the bathing habits of the Japanese.
". . . it is in the common bath-room where this extraordinary feature of Japanese life unmistakably presents itself. There men, women and children, perform their ablutions together, with all the apparent innocency of our first parents. The proceedings are conducted with perfect order and good-nature. The steaming occupants make way for one another with ball-room politeness; they laugh and chat over their tubs, discuss the public notices on the walls, or, maybe, saunter occasionally to the open door or window, to look at something which has attracted their attention, or to exchange greetings with a passing friend. All this is done with a freedom that speaks for itself of their utter unconsciousness of any impropriety in their conduct."
The full volume can be read online here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13051/13051-h/13051-h.htm
Image: Bathhouse women, Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815)
One of the country's most historic spa towns is Aizu, in Fukushima Prefecture.
Article: The Timeless Charms of Aizu
// via @nippon_com