Beppu : To be Naked or not to be Naked?

Beppu is famous for its hot springs, and it is effectively a spa town – a centre of geothermal activity. This fact was reinforced when we were having a stroll along the sea front and discovered 10 people buried in sand up to their necks! It was an odd sight! They were having a sand bath. I later had one… and can confirm that the sand is warm and it was very relaxing, despite looking like a reverse ostrich.

It was after I had my sand bath, at one of the spa complexes, that a Dilemma arose; To be Naked or not to be Naked?

When we went to the spa complex we knew somehow that swimming costumes were frowned upon. Upon checking my guidebook now, it does not appear to mention this crucial fact, which I would think would be of interest to the British tourist.

The swimming pools were not Co-Ed; there was a Men’s pool and a Women’s pool. My boyfriend trotted off to the Men’s pool, happy as Larry. I went into the Women’s pool area wearing a swimming costume. I was covered in sand from my sand bath and really wanted a shower before even thinking about the pool, but the showers were in the pool area (not in the changing rooms). Before I got anywhere near the showers, an elderly Japanese lady shouted at me and chased me out. There was a communication barrier (being that we couldn’t speak or understand each other’s languages!), but I understood that she was saying that swimming costumes weren’t allowed. I made noises to show I understood (thinking “ok that’s fine, I will leave….  but there’s no way I’m coming back in naked!”).

Unfortunately the lady followed me into the changing area and proceeded to stand over me demanding that I remove my swimming costume, there and then, without cover of a towel or any help for my dignity. Now I generally subscribe to the “When in Rome” philosophy and I am normally happy to blend in with other cultures, but we had been continually laughed at during our stay (as outlined in previous blogs, here and here) and that was with our clothes ON! So there was no way I was going to take my clothes off, so I could be laughed at there too! Seeing no other option, I turned and ran out of the changing room. I didn’t have a towel so all I could do was sit, covered in sand, waiting for my boyfriend to re-appear from the Male changing area, whereupon I borrowed his towel and put my clothes back on. In her defence, it is possible that she was trying to be helpful; helping me understand what I needed to do (remove my swimming costume) and maybe nudity is not a big deal there, which is why she stood over me… I have no idea. But with the communication barrier, that did not come across and she seemed like an officious member of the Clothes Police 😉 It wasn’t the best experience – I felt bewildered, upset, and pathetic, and I had to walk home covered in sand.

I don’t feel like I am well positioned to dish out advice on this… I can only suggest the following:-

  • Consider your stance on this – obviously if you are happy to be naked in public then this isn’t an issue. My boyfriend had no issue with it, so he enjoyed his spa experience in the Men’s pool.
  • If you are bothered about it, check before you visit the spa complex what the rules are on nudity, and whether swimming costumes are strictly policed or merely a preference. There is normally a Tourist Information desk in each train station with English-speaking staff. Alternatively, look at guidebooks/ research on the internet. There are various spa complexes, so each one may have different rules.
  • Good luck!! 🙂

After this, I was in need of some TLC. We went to a lovely pizza restaurant for something familiar, and had a chocolate ice cream sundae for pudding which had mini-chocolate bears on it! We enjoyed wandering around the rest of Beppu, although there wasn’t much to it – the main focus is the geothermal spas.

We did however find a kind of Japanese casino – we had seen them before in Tokyo. We didn’t understand what the game was about but it involved using tiny gold balls, which players keep in containers next to their chairs – presumably their winnings? Anyway, it seemed very popular!

We slept in a Minshuku – ie. a room with tatami floors (ie. rice matting floors!). The bedding is basically laid out on the floor. It was comfortable but we were kept awake by some noisy tourists talking all night through the (thin) wall!

Like in Nikko, I noticed again that Beppu had really ornate manhole covers. I enjoyed the attention to detail.

We awoke early for breakfast; so early that we got an earlier train than planned! (Which must be a first for us!) I am sad to say that I wasn’t sad to leave Beppu…

Next blog: Tokyo (again!)

Previous blog: Kagoshima, Japan

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5 thoughts on “Beppu : To be Naked or not to be Naked?

  1. While living in Italy I went to a spa, yep just get naked. Later I had to have an echo cardio done, the Dr, ( Italian ) told the translator to tell me to ” take my top and bras off” . Um ,ok as I stood there in a paint peeling walled room . They stood and looked at me expectantly . So , I thought whatever and took my top and bra off. I was motioned to a hospital bed and laid there as they chatted non chalantly ( sp) in Italian over my boobs. SO , you know what … people in other countries DO NOT care about our bodies like we do in the US and UK. It was liberating once I realized no one cares. So the next time you can take your clothes off at a spa… just embrace. Part of growing is to be in an uncomfortable position and overcoming the discomfort. 🙂

  2. I also didn’t go to the spa because of that reason! Hehe. If it were with a bunch of other Westerners who might be closer to my size, I may have considered it.

  3. Oh dear, I do understand what you mean. It’s the same for we westerners when taking a traditional Japanese o-furo (bath). I speak Japanese and have studied there so am reasonably able to communicate but it’s still sometimes difficult when East meets West. And one is often conscious, in such situations, that they really do regard us as graceless barbarians. I don’t like taking my clothes off in public either…I don’t mean to be unkind but do think your experience shows how important it is before visiting a country to study the local customs carefully so that you don’t give unwitting offence and at the same time don’t find yourself in embarrassing situations. I’m sure your post will be a useful warning to others planning to tour Japan. Do please keep on posting because your candid comments are more interesting than the usual “everything was lovely” blah!

    • Thanks for your comments. We were certainly trying to fit in and not cause offence (eg. we read it is impolite to blow your nose in public, and also to say “No”)… But I guess it can’t all go smoothly! 🙂

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