Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

What is in the bathroom? Part 1:Bathing culture

Matsumoto introduces bathing culture in Japan as a practice among the Japanese that promotes cleanness as well as relaxation is the evening bath, a time of soaking and relaxing in very warm water after a long day of work - one of the simple pleasures of Japanese culture. She also describes steps in bathing and one of the steps is the hot water in the tub will be used by other family members, in turn. (Matsumoto, 2009) Bathing is a crucial component that has a deep connection with uchi and soto. It reinforces the two different concepts at the same time by emphasizing soto, the barrier between inside-clean-world and outside-dirty-world but sharing the hot water with uchi, family members. It is engrossing to see this multidirectional flow of cultural power and energy. Japanese bodies made an adjustment to live with these two conflicting ideas, which is taking the evening bath after a long day at work. It reduces the gap because taking bath removes dirtiness, which belongs to the outside world, by using the clean water, which belongs to the inside world. The heavy weight of hygiene in Japanese bodies represents the transition from an out-group to an in-group and how uchi-soto plays a role in the scene.

However, another unique fact about bathing culture is Sentō, a type of Japanese public bath house. The idea of sentō might seem conflicting with uchi and soto since it means showing the most private part of their bodies to strangers. However, taking a deeper look at sentō actually explains how this idea has been came along with uchi and soto. First, it is noteworthy to mention that not every Japanese household had a private bathtub at home especially for those in lower social class. They had to find a place to practice the social custom yet in a different way than others who were privileged to have their own bathtub. Second, sentō is usually a local place which means neighbors and people from local area goes to the same sentō. Even though uchi includes mostly family members and close friends these days, neighbors were considered as uchi as well when it was social norm to help and take care of the neighbors and the town. Through this action it forms great membership in a town or community, which is considered as very important value in Japanese culture. Hendry argues that the membership brings security in the face of danger, comfort in times of need and entertainment and social life to the very doorstep. Many villagers feel they have little choice about participating, but they also realize the advantages of belonging to such a community. Some villagers who move away to a city for a period when they are younger return later and settle down in the village. (Hendry, 2012) Taken all these social phenomenons together, bathing culture in Japan contains various aspects of Japanese bodies and those are still reinforcing Japan bodies to be formed in such way. Then, it reproduces another form of power and culture to affect the nation and other society members.


About Sento. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://www.1010.or.jp/english/
Hendry, J. (2012). Understanding japanese society. Routledge.

Matsumoto, D. (2009). The Soul of a Nation: Japan's Destiny. Morgan James Publishing.


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