Japan is proud of its bathing traditions. For many Westerners, though, the fact that these traditions involve being naked with strangers is awkward at best, even though men and women bathe separately. On my first trip I tried to wriggle out of a friend's offer to take me to an onsen, or hot springs resort. I suggested a different town that had an attraction I wanted to see, and thought I was off the hook.
1. You’ll Be Naked
I have always had mixed feelings about spending time in saunas or steam rooms. While I appreciate the supposed benefits of purging out toxins through an intense dehydration process, I do feel like I already perspire plenty in the heat and humidity of home sweet sweaty home, Singapore. Which explains my apprehension about visiting a Russian public bathhouse, or banya, during a recent trip to Moscow in March. Also, I had recently watched Eastern Promises again and doubted my ability to make it out of an unplanned naked knife fight like Viggo Mortensen did. So my travel companion and I found ourselves at Sanduny Bath House, touted as the oldest banya in Russia, being founded in , and highly recommended by a number of Muscovites. Photo: Sanduny. Past the understated entrance think ground-floor, corner shophouse unit in a less busy side of Bukit Pasoh , we deposited our outerwear at the cloakroom and, after some vigorous sign language on our part, eventually found the main changing area. Instead of minimalist wooden benches positioned between rows of lockers like many changing rooms in Singapore, this was more of an open recreational space with rows of large straight-back leather chairs. Very much like an old-school whisky lounge, if all the patrons were Russian men of varying vintages lounging around with a vodka or beer in hand… sans clothing. Several private rooms are available for those who prefer some privacy and those who have not yet enjoyed a few vodkas.
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I was completely comfortable in the sheet and nothing else, the attendants are very respective and everything was very private. The attendant does see your naked backside when they wrap you in the toga and your front while you are in the bath. If you feel you would be uncomfortable with that then wear a bathing suit or underwear, they give you the option. Be sure to bring water resistant sandals as you will need them to walk from one area to the next. They give you a sheet to wrap up in, but while in the shower, tub, sitz bath, etc. They give you a changing area where you strip and cover yourself with a towel for transit. Wear something comfortable like sweats and a t-shirt to go in.
This open-minded attitude to the naked body started in the 19th century, when Scandinavian-style steam baths became popular; then, in the late 20th century nudity became widely accepted on beaches, in city parks and on walking trails. Recent years have seen a decline of nakedness in such outdoor settings, but the unadorned body is still the standard at bathhouses. Each bathhouse, generally containing the German word bad bath in its name, will have a clothed area centred on a swimming pool, much like any municipal fitness centre.