One of the hardest things for most Westerners to overcome while living in Japan is their own body conciousness. Traditionally, the Japanese are much less physically shy than we might suppose. However, a long history of public bathing has reduced the modesty limitations in this culture. In addition, bodies and their functions are generally discussed far more openly than we may be used to.
(Interestingly enough, that last has its opposite in a social disorder among young office ladies in Tokyo and Osaka, where the ladies are so concious of odors and foulness that they cannot make themselves use the office lavatories. There is a whole range of products available for women to carry in their purses that will disguise any odors that may ensue.)
When I first arrived here, nearly six years ago, going to a public bath or hot spring was not something I wanted to do. It took a three day rock festival with mountain snow runoff for showers to convince me that a hot bath with a room full of strangers might not be that bad. I’ve written about the public baths before – namely to note that it’s
common for children to accompany their parents, and relevant to this
story, very little is made of having small children accompany a parent
or grandparent of the opposite gender into the baths.
At any rate, I feel pretty comfortable with myself and it doesn’t bother me to go to the public baths. Nor does it bother me to have the female janitorial staff begin cleaning the restrooms while I’m still using them. Nor does it bother me to have random old men comment on my body or my anatomy.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am not really self-concious about much of anything anymore.
There’s the pride, here comes the fall.
I was in the locker room of the pool today, having just gotten out of the showers and getting ready to go to work. A grandfather and his very young granddaughter came in. With no thought at all, he started getting her clothes off and getting his own off as well, trying to get her dressed and himself dressed at the same time. This little girl was only three or four and the grandfather’s only option was to bring her into the locker room with him, and, truthfully, I thought good on him for making the time and effort to spend time with his granddaughter. No big deal.
However, just to be polite, and to preserve some sense of modesty, I make sure I am well away from them and keep my towel on while I put on my clothes. Or so I thought. While I had my shirt over my head, my towel slipped and I heard the little girl say, loudly, “Grandpa, look at the foreigner’s penis! It’s so white!”
The grandfather laughed and said, “Really, is that so?”
I quickly finished getting dressed and walked out of the locker room, hoping no one would notice how red my face was getting in contrast to my, ahem, extemities.
No. I’m not self-concious. Not at all.
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