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Nudity in Context I

Yakushima: bathing and public nudity

I’ve got an hour before the next transport trundles by, so it’s off to the local onsen – where the pool just so happens to be situated a pebble’s throw to the beach on the outskirts of Yudomori – and is for mixed gender bathing. For the record m’lud – onsen are normally the least sexual places you can imagine. My only other gender-mixed onsen experience (um, in Japan) was by co-incidence also situated next to a beach – this time on the Izu peninsular. Not quite knowing what to expect I unwittingly ended up knee to knee in the pool with two Tokyo porn starlets and a good dozen otaku.

Yakushima is dotted with geo-thermally fed onsen – public and private pools where both locals and visitors to the isle strip, wash and once cleaned, bathe. Only a heathen would sit in their own dirty water, right? Here in the sticks the onsen functions as a social hub for the elderly – a neutral place where one can unwind, chat and slowly get into a state-of-mind to move onto something else. Or not – island life is slooow. Yeah, the experience is not a million miles from a bathhouse in Iran or its many equivalents in Finland.

Onsen are often sold on their unique attributes and if you happen to be in Yakushima – the JR Yakushima Hotel has an onsen with water so soft it feels like you’re gliding through a pool of aloe and stepping out is as refreshing as having your your body licked by a perfectly minty tongue.

Most public onsen are gender separated but, as with today, on occasion you can find men and women sharing the same pool. It’s fairly normal to take a rest from the intense heat of the pool by perching pool side – one leg dangling in the water, but I couldn’t quite figure out why in my Izu experience these two attractive women would every so often rise out and stand at a right angle to the pool before turning their head to gaze out to sea a maneuver that, as you might expect, contorted the body to give an all too perfect bodily profile. I’m all for new experiences but this one I couldn’t quite place – everyone seemed to know each other, but they weren’t talking like friends.

It turned out that it was a informal porno package tour – the guide / pimp who introduced himself in faltering English drove a mini-bus down from Tokyo with paying punters and the aforementioned starlets. With a couple of bemused locals and the token white guy making up the ‘pot. Every so often one of the gents would haul a small waterproof-cased camera from the pool and snap the ladies in situ, and after a while they kindly offered to take a photo of me sandwiched between the two ladies in a seating position that revealed their freshly shorn hooves. Pretty sure that had I accepted – that the photo would have been used as an advertising lure to pull in foreign punters for the next tour.

Context is everything. Especially when it out of context.