Australians could learn from the Japanese way of being naked

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Opinion

Australians could learn from the Japanese way of being naked

Burying myself into the corner of the change room, I awkwardly hold the towel wrapped around my body with one hand and lose my balance. I hobble around trying to step into my underwear. I catch a glimpse of the rest of the change room and we’re all doing the same clumsy dance – fearing someone might catch sight of our naked upper thighs.

When do we become one of those women in a public change room who carelessly expose their naked bodies for all to see? Why do we feel such shame for being in our natural state? Somewhere down the line it seems the unattainable beauty standards blasted at us on social media have made us uncomfortable with any variation from the supposed norm.

Japanese bath houses, known as onsen, have a strict no-clothes policy.

Japanese bath houses, known as onsen, have a strict no-clothes policy.Credit:iStock

In my mother’s Japanese culture, naked bodies are normalised from a very young age. Children bathe with their parents right up to their pubescent years. You’re taught to look (respectfully) and become accustomed to the bumps and curves of an adult body.

Even once you enter adulthood, there are “onsen”, which are public bathing houses. There, it’s not acceptable to stroll around in your bikinis and budgie smugglers like you do here at the hot springs. You strictly follow a no-clothes rule. A tiny little towel fit for a doll is given to you, for modesty of course. You hide what you can with that and join the others in the steaming hot water.

The Japanese, an outwardly modest, quiet and conservative people, somehow feel OK being naked in front of their families, colleagues and friends.

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Here in Australia, we are loud and proud. Many of us are OK going to a bar with not much more than a bra and mini skirt. Our individuality is usually celebrated and we’re surrounded by a melting pot of cultures. Yet, when it comes to being in the nude it seems that many of us flick a switch and turn inwards.

I’ve always found the “squeaky wheel gets the oil” to be the Australian way. We can be bold and brash. You’re taught to take space in the world and speak up for yourself, or else you’ll be left behind. So, why don’t we carry this go-getting attitude in all aspects of our lives?

I think both cultures have something to learn from the other. Many Japanese people struggle with individuality and straying away from the mainstream. But, we may have something to learn from them about being comfortable with our own bone and flesh. It would be nice to feel empowered in a change room and know that others feel comfortable in that space too.

Emma Sullivan is a Melbourne writer.

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