My life was about to change forever, but back then I didn’t know it yet. As I stepped off the plane, a rush of excitement came over me—I was finally in Japan.
It was my first time crossing the ocean by plane, my first time out of North America, my first passport stamp.
The next few days were a whirlwind of activities all in a new language, including dealing with jetlag, orientations at my new university, and meeting my Japanese host family.
I was so anxious about meeting my host family. After going through a horribly awkward “introduction ceremony”, it was time for them to take me to what would become my home for the next year. My new life in Japan had officially begun. I was eager to meet the rest of my host family and see what was planned for the day, which ended up being a trip to a swimming resort.
Seeing as I love swimming and I hadn’t gotten the chance to all summer because it never got hot enough, you can imagine my excitement that this would be our first family bonding activity.
The pool facilities were amazing and I had a wonderful time swimming, playing games and spending time with my newly acquired host family.
My family led me back towards the changing rooms, so I only assumed it was time to head home. Instead of heading to our locker, my host mom smiled and said the best part was about to begin.
I had a feeling I knew what was coming next, but I nervously gulped and asked what was next. Of course I was correct in my guess—onsen. Even hearing my host mom say the word made every muscle in my body tense up.
An onsen. Where people choose to get naked with others and hang out in hot springs. I’m American, so I’m not exactly used to this whole idea of being nude in public. As if I’m not self-conscious enough with all my clothes on, how was I supposed to take my clothes off with all these people around?
Although it was something I wanted to push myself to try in Japan, I didn’t want to face my fears on day one. I had hoped I can go alone, surrounded by a few strangers that I’d never have to look in the face again, not with my host family whom I had just met hours before and have to face on a daily basis the next year.
Everyone immediately began throwing off their swimsuits and grabbing clean towels. I stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to do or how to process all of this. I contemplated running away and waiting in the lobby.
My host sisters began tugging at my shirt, while giggling “hazukashiiiiiii?” (the Japanese word for embarrassed).
Ok, calm down and whatever you do, don’t stare I told myself. There’s nothing wrong with being naked, everyone is born naked, get over it.
I quickly tossed off my swimsuit and grabbed a towel that I could conveniently use to cover myself with a little as we walked into the showers.
I searched carefully before picking out a stool in the corner that was away from most everyone. I sat down and began washing myself while maintaining an almost-fetal position the whole time.
I ended up finishing much faster than the rest of my host family, and I didn’t know if I could go right into the bath, so I stood there, stark naked, awkwardly waiting like an idiot.
After a bit of scanning the room while waiting, I noticed not one single person was staring at another, or at me for being foreign. It was during this time that I finally started to forget about that fact that everyone around me was naked.
My host family finished and we all entered the bath together. It was one of the most relaxing experiences of my life, the rest of my cares melted away in the hot water. We sat chatting, getting to know one another, all while sharing in one of the finest aspects of Japanese culture.
I am certainly glad that I didn’t run away, it was an introduction to Japan that I’ll not soon forget.