Nov 13, 2012

Naked Culture in Japan

Sometimes I read the articles on the website "GaijinPot" (Gaijin means foreigners in Japanese), which is interesting, because the standpoint of this website is from that of foreign people and it is new for me, although sometimes it is ridiculous.

I found the article "Why Japanese People AreComfortable With Nakedness" on this website. It is true that we have many chances to see naked Japanese men especially at festivals, and the festivals called "裸祭 Hadaka Matsuri" (naked festival)" were held all over Japan. But I don't know if this phenomenon is related to onsen, Shinto, or prostitution, as this article pointed out.

Off course Japanese men don't get be naked at just anytime, anywhere. We have a strict rule on when and where we can be naked. I'm living near Ikebukuro Station, which is one of the biggest terminal stations in Tokyo, and during a festival I see many naked Japanese men walking on the street just in front of Ikebukuro Station and foreigner people watch them with curiosity and take photos. But we never see naked men on an ordinary day.

In every culture there is a rule about the costume that participants of festivals should wear. Nakedness is the costume of the male participants of Hadaka Matsuri (naked festival) just like the female participants of Rio's Carnival. The article said, "While sexuality is not encouraged in most Western religions, Japan’s native Shinto religion is more open-minded," but the main religion in Brazil is Christianity.

It is common that things that aren't allowed in everyday are allowed in festival time. The participants of Hadaka Matsuri (naked festival) and Rio's Carnival turn to be naked, because they aren't allowed to be naked in everyday. Japanese folklore scholars call this phenomenon "ハレとケ (hare and ke)". "Hare" means festival time, and "ke" means everyday life.

We also turn to be naked in a public bath and onsen. It is not that we are allowed to be naked in the public bath but we SHOULD be naked in the public bath. Off course it is rude to watch other's naked bodies. In the hinterlands there are mixed bathing onsens, which aren't sexual at all. You can see just old naked men and women.

It's true that sometimes we, Japanese, turn to be naked in public, but it isn't preference but custom.


  1. Oh, where to begin.

    Nudity has a very strong (exclusively?) sexual connotation in Western civilization; I've read in numerous books that nudity didn't equal sex in old days in Japan. (Just look at 春画 - the lovers are seldom, if ever, completely nude.) If you look at nudity in Japan from a Western perspective, you could easily misinterpret it, as that article does rather spectacularly.

    I was also surprised when I first saw semi-naked men at festivals. I expected bare bodies on beaches; not in streets. Now I'm used to it. I don't stare, but I certainly don't NOT look when a sexy butt walks by! I'm a fundoshi fan! ^^

    I should also add that I felt very awkward when I visited an onsen for the first time. Now I love it.

    Gaijinpot? (@_@) Gaijinpot and Japan Today are the worst of the worst. (They're managed by the same company.) I think Japan Probe is a much better, more intelligent, less biased website. Do you know it?

    There are others, but let's stop there for now.

  2. Haha, when I was writing this entry, I thought that you must be interested in this topic.

    Yukio Mishima was one of the biggest fundoshi fans in Japan. You can find many his fundoshi self portraits on the internet.

    Thank you for teaching me "Japan Probe." I've bookmarked it.

  3. Mishima's snow and gym photos? Oh, I've seen them (of course!), but I prefer taiko drummers. ;)

    Two more discussion sites you could consider (if you don't know 'em already), but they should be put in context.

    Reddit is mostly written by males in their 20s (demographical fact), but the Japan discussion board (sometimes) includes old Japan hands whose comments I enjoy. If you ignore the newbies (please translate this for me, how do I get a job in Japan, how do I pick up Japanese girls, please check my travel plan for me), you'll find a few interesting discussions.

    Japologism is kept going by a small group of men who mostly got together to vent their frustration about Debito. (Know him? Naturalized Japanese citizen of American descent who's now left Japan.) It's been described as "lonely testosterone alpha male vs alpha male trolling that characterizes the expat community in Japan". Having said that, it's visited by other naturalized Japanese and permanent residents who've lived here for years and are fluent in Japanese, so it's worth an occasional visit.

    Happy reading! :)

  4. Thank you!

    I enjoyed reading the article "Why aren't we all using Japanese toilets?" on Reddit. I'm also wandering why Toto can't export Japanese toilets all over the world. I really laughed at the word "Basically, we're the Apple Computers of toilets" Toto spokesperson.

    I didn't know about Debito(出人?) at all. I'll check Debito's website, too.

  5. That toilet discussion was funny, wasn't it? It's a topic that always gets foreigners going! ^^

    Debito? I think he's an asshole.

    He was supposed to be an activist who fought for foreigners' rights in Japan, but his definition of "foreigner" equals "white privileged whining Westerner" and his activism is focused on self-promotion.

    He became very bitter towards Japan. He had a column in The Japan Times called "Just Be Cause" which was total rubbish. I'm suspicious of foreigners who blame Japan for all their woes instead of examining their own attitudes.

    He's now left Japan.

    Link here.

    PS: This is what I find so amusing. He was supposed to have educated Japan about its appalling (ha!) treatment of foreigners, but not one Japanese person I know has ever heard of him. He's only known in the very tiny, not-as-important-as-they-want-to-be white expat community. >:)

  6. I've heard about the problem of the public bath in Otaru, but I didn't know the name Debito at all.

    Maybe we are able to find this kind of people everywhere in the world.

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