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Hot Spring Resorts in Japan and China as Erotic places

Nelson Graburn
Traduction(s) :
Sources thermales d’eau chaude au Japon et en Chine. Des lieux érotiques ? [fr]

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Introduction

1Beaches are « sexualized » places not only because of the revealing clothing since the 1920s (in the Western world), but because, like lakes and swimming pools, they show the body to advantage in the water, both for spectators and other swimmers. Places of water and wetness are suggestive and are often mentally associated with « nude bathing ». Think, for instance, of the many movie scenes of a couple out walking or hiking finding, a small lake and throwing off their clothes to plunge in or, even better, a man or group of men out in the woods, suddenly coming across a group of naked girls swimming!

2Hot spring resorts are similar but socially organized institutions providing such opportunities for voyeurism and plunging in, more so in East Asia than in the many other hot spring venues found in Europe and the Americas. Natural hot springs abound in Japan and certain regions of Korea and China, and they have long been « culturalized » for the leisure of locals and travelers.

Japanese Onsen

3Indeed, hot spring destinations (onsen) are, outside of the famous cities, Japan’s number one tourist attractions (Graburn 1995, 1998). In Japan the tradition requires thorough washing before entering the baths and no clothes are permitted, but everyone carries a small towel. Men and women may bath separately either in separate baths - and the men’s facilities (Figure 1.) are usually much superior to the women’s. The huge hot spring resort of Ibusiki, south of Kagoshima, every year hosts 3 million bathers and nearly a million stay overnight. In the largest establishment with 29 baths, 22 are for men (including suni-mushi, hot sand-buryings) and only seven for women. I noticed many of the men gazing through the greenery at the women on the other side in pools slightly below!

Figure 1. Men’s outdoor bath rotenburo, Kamou-cho community onsen, Kyushu.

Figure 1. Men’s outdoor bath rotenburo, Kamou-cho community onsen, Kyushu.

© NG, 2017

4Or men and women alternate at posted times in the main bath facilities. In some onsen, all the baths are mixed sex and in others, that is only permitted after, say 9 p.m., mainly for the younger people. In the mountains of Wakayama, there is a famous spot in the river called Kawayu [river-hot water] where volcanic hot water mixes with rainwater and at certain times of year, when the temperature is bearable, the whole river becomes a senninburo [a thousand-person bath] and families and couples flock there to bath in the darkness, leaving their clothes and towels scattered along the banks (Figure 2). Conversely some onsen and onsen ryokan (see below), offer private single person or family sized baths where couples or families can bathe at any time if it is attached to their room or, if separate, when they book it.

Figure 2. “Thousand Person Bath,” senninburo, Kawayu, Wakayama.

Figure 2. “Thousand Person Bath,” senninburo, Kawayu, Wakayama.

© NG, 2014

  • 1 Usually suitable for one adult or a parent and child. Filled and emptied after every member of the (...)

5Like the larger baths, the prefered style is outside, under the open sky, rotenburo [open air bath], preferably with an open view of nature - trees, mountains, shorelines (Figure 3) – but the private ones are carefully walled off so others cannot see in1 and in most resorts, so men and women cannot see into each other’s baths (see exception above!). Relaxing in a rotenburo in the rain or snow is considered one of the most romantic experiences in life!

Figure 3. Outdoor bath, rotenburo, Lake Kussharo Ryokan, Hokkaido.

Figure 3. Outdoor bath, rotenburo, Lake Kussharo Ryokan, Hokkaido.

© NG, 2014

  • 2 Ryokan are traditional inns with individual or family rooms in which meals (and drinks) are served; (...)

6However, the specific sexualized sites are the onsen ryokan or minshuku2 and more recently resort hotels. Holiday makers usually stay only a night or two; when they arrive, they are shown to their tatami room [straw mat floors, no beds, just a mattress and futon], they change out of their workaday clothes and put on the traditional yukata [thin cloth robe, no underwear] and if it is cold, a haori [short over-kimono] and then walk to the bath(s). After washing (and sometimes shaving) and relaxing naked, they dry themselves and return to their room to find the table and cushions set out with a multi-course kaiseki [upper class] meal with drink, usually sake, but beer or shochu [local spirits] may be ordered (figure 4).

Figure 4. Kaiseki dinner, waiting for guests to return from the baths, Yunomineonsen ryokan, Wakayama.

Figure 4. Kaiseki dinner, waiting for guests to return from the baths, Yunomineonsen ryokan, Wakayama.

© NG, 2014

7After the meal, the occupants go again to the baths, and when they return to the room, the dinner table and cushions have gone, and the straw mat floor is laid out with the mattress and futon bed ready for them to doff their yukata and lie down for the night. It is also common to take a bath again after waking up in the morning, especially in the light of dawn.

8Many Japanese ryokan have private ofuro, small baths of the type that nearly one everyone has at home (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Private bath, ofuro, attached to room, Fontana no Oka Ryokan, Kamou-cho, Kyushu.

Figure 5. Private bath, ofuro, attached to room, Fontana no Oka Ryokan, Kamou-cho, Kyushu.

© NG, 2017

  • 3 Care is taken to prevent contacts between the employees and the visitors. They may pick up a key fr (...)

9Quite different are the « love hotels » [rabu hoteru] which may be booked by the hour by couples desiring secrecy or privacy. Started centuries ago, they became popular after World War II, with married couples living in tiny city apartments needing to get away from their children. These are not strictly for ero-tourism, but, as pointed out in the Introduction « sans sortir de chez soi » they provide a break from the norm. Their excitement may be enhanced by the outlandish or romantic architecture of some or the hidden entrances and exits3 – and lack of windows in others. Inside, the rooms are usually furnished with condoms and a small bath, and often by pornographic pictures (shunga), magazines or videos, or even undulating or rotating beds and mirrors on the ceiling. These hotels are often found near railway stations and at highway rest stops, and can be used in emergency by families (as I have). In cities there are often used by prostitutes as places of work.

10Korea has sexualized sites and hot springs similar to Japan, with habits brought by Japan’s forty year colonization (1905-1945). Though nudity is usally required, there are fewer opportunities of mixed sex baths. Similarly, the ex-colony Taiwan, follows mainly Japanese trends but, like China, some resorts offer scented baths.

Chinese Hot Spring Resorts

11In spite of its varied geology, there are natural hot springs to be found in nearly every part of China. These were traditionally used by peasants in villages and emperors in palaces alike, for relaxation, washing and cures both for the skin and internally. But it is only in the recent era of prosperity that organized resorts and accompanying hotels have been developed and expanded almost everywhere, especially the near major cities.

  • 4 Many well-known Japanese baths were and are well-known for the curative properties of their waters, (...)

12China treats hotsprings more like Europe, as relaxing holiday resorts for families (and, in certain places, for cures especially for older people)4. Most of the newly built hot spring resorts and their hotels, require bathing with appropriate clothing, and so there are no gendered baths. The baths may have great natural views and/or be infused « unnaturally » with scents and flavors, such as tea, lemongrass, flowers, rice wine or even, milk, coffee or red wine! While enjoyable, these do not appear to have the aphrodisiac properties of Japanese ryokan. In China, as elsewhere there is a novel thrill of bathing one’s feet in a warm pool with piranha-like little fish that love to nibble on the outer layers of one’s tired epidermis!

13Hot spring resorts are becoming more specialized. There are still free or cheap baths for peasants, workers and adventurous backpackers. But most resorts are private and are rapidly modernizing, combining bathing, with regular massage treatments, luxurious accomodations and tempting restaurants. Some specialize in attracting young people, in big crowds, others have spectacular events such as shows, water splashing and even fighting duos in soy milk and tofu filled baths.

14More common in China than, perhaps, either Japan or Europe, are the provision of sizable private baths (or pools) for each room in a resort or hotel (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Family sized bath, private club (for government or military, day or evening use), Kunming, Yunnan.

Figure 6. Family sized bath, private club (for government or military, day or evening use), Kunming, Yunnan.

© NG, 2007

15In some Chinese hotels, such as the Mermaid Hotspring Inn, in the Tangjiajia Hot Spring B&B Village, near Nanjing, each room has a large “family sized” bathroom attached; and each room is themed to a certain nationality, for instance, Persian, French, German, with appropriate décor (Figures7a, 7b).

Figure 7a., 7b. Moroccan French themed bath décor for room and bath, Mermaid Hotspring Inn, Tangjiajia Hot Spring B&B Village, Tangshan, Nanjing.

Figure 7a., 7b. Moroccan French themed bath décor for room and bath, Mermaid Hotspring Inn, Tangjiajia Hot Spring B&B Village, Tangshan, Nanjing.

© NG, 2017

16Other larger resorts, such as the Geothermal Paradise Resort (Figure 8), near Eryuan Lake, in Dali County, Yunnan, is a huge ambitious venture with a series of outdoor and indoor large public baths (for clothed bathers) but each room of the “hotel sector” has a large (more than nuclear family seized) outside pool attached (Figure 9). I am suggesting that it is the arrangement of the private baths and pools that are encouraging the romantic and sexual activities of the tourists. As pointed out in the Introduction, this is not usually thought of as “sex tourism” but it does promote erotic opportunities and, of course, the tourists sharing a room may not be (long term) partners in their home communities. The large pools with mixed genders and clothed bathers are hardly different from any swimming pool or beach. However, they provide opportunities for social and bodily contacts, and many of the resorts crowded with young people, such as Lijiang or Dali are known as hook up hotspots for “romantic” one night stands.

Figure 8. Entrance to Dali Geothermal Paradise host spring resort, Yunnan.

Figure 8. Entrance to Dali Geothermal Paradise host spring resort, Yunnan.

© NG, 2016

Figure 9. Outdoor bath, attached to private room, Dali Geothermal Paradise host spring resort, Yunnan.

Figure 9. Outdoor bath, attached to private room, Dali Geothermal Paradise host spring resort, Yunnan.

© NG, 2016

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Bibliographie

Graburn, N., 1995, "The Past in the Present in Japan: Nostalgia and Neo-Traditionalism in Contemporary Japanese Domestic Tourism", In W. Butler R., G. Pearce D. (eds.), Changes in Tourism: People, Places, Processes, Chapter 4, London, Routledge, 47-70

Graburn, N., 1998, "Work and Play in the Japanese Countryside", In Frühstück S., Linhart S. (eds.), The Culture of Japan as Seen Through Its Leisure, New York, SUNY Press, 195-12

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Notes

1 Usually suitable for one adult or a parent and child. Filled and emptied after every member of the family has taken a bath, usually the man going first – when the water is hottest.

2 Ryokan are traditional inns with individual or family rooms in which meals (and drinks) are served; minshuku [people’s abodes] are cheaper establishments with common dining rooms (and simpler meals) and sometimes shared sleeping accommodation, usually association with younger travellers.

3 Care is taken to prevent contacts between the employees and the visitors. They may pick up a key from a box, and pay by credit card, or behind frosted glass or pay paying tube.

4 Many well-known Japanese baths were and are well-known for the curative properties of their waters, though pleasure and liminality are now the predominant motivations. Up till World War II, onsen were also famed for their natural (curative) radioactivity, the higher the better; this has not been mentioned since 1945.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Men’s outdoor bath rotenburo, Kamou-cho community onsen, Kyushu.
Crédits © NG, 2017
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Titre Figure 2. “Thousand Person Bath,” senninburo, Kawayu, Wakayama.
Crédits © NG, 2014
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 20k
Titre Figure 3. Outdoor bath, rotenburo, Lake Kussharo Ryokan, Hokkaido.
Crédits © NG, 2014
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Figure 4. Kaiseki dinner, waiting for guests to return from the baths, Yunomineonsen ryokan, Wakayama.
Crédits © NG, 2014
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 892k
Titre Figure 5. Private bath, ofuro, attached to room, Fontana no Oka Ryokan, Kamou-cho, Kyushu.
Crédits © NG, 2017
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Figure 6. Family sized bath, private club (for government or military, day or evening use), Kunming, Yunnan.
Crédits © NG, 2007
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Figure 7a., 7b. Moroccan French themed bath décor for room and bath, Mermaid Hotspring Inn, Tangjiajia Hot Spring B&B Village, Tangshan, Nanjing.
Crédits © NG, 2017
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 308k
Titre Figure 8. Entrance to Dali Geothermal Paradise host spring resort, Yunnan.
Crédits © NG, 2016
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 880k
Titre Figure 9. Outdoor bath, attached to private room, Dali Geothermal Paradise host spring resort, Yunnan.
Crédits © NG, 2016
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/1838/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
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Référence électronique

Nelson Graburn, « Hot Spring Resorts in Japan and China as Erotic places », Via [En ligne], 11-12 | 2017, mis en ligne le 14 mai 2018, consulté le 16 août 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/1838

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Auteur

Nelson Graburn

University of California at Berkeley

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