The Japanese Bath
With that in mind, maybe it is not too farfetched, even as daily news continually shreds our hearts and challenges the limits of what is credible, that I wish to share some reflections on Japanese reverence for the bath. Actually, probably the time is perfect. Who does not need inner and outer realignment and purifying in these very troubled times?
Since time out of mind, and stretching equally far into the future, bathing for Japanese reaches the level of the sacred. Both blessed and cursed by a fiery arc of volcanic jewels, Japan is a paradise of abundant water, often directed into hot springs, foot baths, health resorts, and spas. Young and old, fat and thin, strong and infirm, pretty and plain. All dualistic perceptions of outer identity are shed as the daily ritual of cleansing unfolds.
“Our bodies are natural. Being with others who feel the same is reassuring and community affirming. How ridiculous it was in California where they wanted us to wear bathing suits in the bath. How unnatural is that! We Japanese didn’t follow those silly rules. How could we?” remarked a student coming back from her stint in the USA.
“The bath is a return to our original purity,” said an older friend. “It cleanses not only the body, but more importantly the mind and spirit. You mask the deep purpose of bathing if you cover yourself. Literally by having clothing or tattoos. Symbolically by closing yourself in defensiveness or shame.”
The oldsters’ community center where I often go for deep baths is a wonderful blossoming of folks at one with their bodies. The very old and not so, the extremely wrinkled, wobbly, sagging, and less so, we are all there. Some stay all day. “I need the friendship,” they say. “I appreciate the flux of people.” And “I feel part of society when I am here.”
We chat, we scrub, we soak. But more than anything we appreciate. The place, the people, the sense of belonging, the mutual concern.
“Of course, we come to purify our whole being, but in reality, aren’t we already pure? These days most people don’t know that, so don’t act that way. But we are pure. It just takes a lifetime to recognize it. In fact, most of us oldsters realize that the greatest task of our life has been to remember what we have forgotten.
Love in purity,