When bathing, however, the seemingly simple gesture of removing your clothes serves to remove your societal position, albeit temporarily. Their importance as lively community gathering spaces is colourfully depicted in Edo- and Meiji-era ukiyo-e woodblock prints of idyllic and playful scenes in everyday life. Before sinking into the almost too-hot bath opposite my neighbours that day, I slowly shed my connections to the outside world, starting with my shoes, which I placed into a small locker at the entrance. Sinking into the almost too-hot bath, aches melting from my desk-weary muscles, I nodded politely to the women opposite. Although this deference can offer great nurturing opportunities, it can also hinder honesty — with kohai not wanting to contradict or question their senpai in fear of seeming disrespectful. The baths provide a good opportunity to open up on a more personal level — be it with co-workers, close friends or family, Abiko explained.
Parker. Age: 27.
Mixing steam with secrets, bathhouses in Japan are a unique bubble of social space.
Noelle. Age: 29.
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Using artificially heated tap water, sento are often brighter, tiled spaces with colourful murals and lower entry prices. Found in almost every neighbourhood and requiring complete nudity, both types of communal bathhouses have a set of strict rules on washing etiquette before entering the pristine, soap-free waters and offer a space for friends, families and even co-workers to relax and connect. The number of public sento slowly grew in the 12th Century and their use flourished in the Edo period when, during this peaceful and culturally rich era, with increased economic growth, the baths became as socially vital as they were practical. Steam-filled and tranquil, public baths in Japan have been a haven from the stresses of daily life for more than 1, years. Children are brought to the sento as soon as they can walk to be introduced to this rare world where nudity is neither celebrated nor shamed, simply accepted.