So today I went to an onsen for the fist time in several months.
God it was good. Several different baths, with different solutions of mineral salts with various beneficial effects upon a tired teacher's body. Outside bath. Massage pool. Sauna.
But it occurred to me that Japanese men are ashamed of their penises. 90% of men, though otherwise completely naked, were walking around with a face cloth held discreetly over their genitals. Funnily enough, I don't seem to remember this practice when I first came to Japan some 10 years ago. Is it really a recent phenomenon?
Well, it is only relatively recently in Japanese society that the bulk of onsens have been divided into mens' and womens' sections. Pre-war it was very rare. Everybody just washed up together, a healthy and open tradition compared to the Victorian prudery of the West. But in recent decades mixed bathing has become the exception rather than the rule. Who knows why. Maybe it was in unconscious emulation of the West. Maybe a consequence of the post-war consumerist objectification of women - after all, if a woman's body is so special, you can't just give away the sight of it for free! Maybe it was a response to the growing perversity of Japanese men ... let's face it, I wouldn't want wanking lecherous 40-year-old virgin underwear-stealing mummy's boys leering at me either. Whatever the reason, mixed onsens are few and far between these days.
But why should men, Japanese or otherwise, be ashamed of their penis? Doesn't every man have one? In a room full of men, who are you gonna offend? Is each individual really of the belief that his penis is so much smaller than his companions' that it must be covered up in shame? Surely that can't be possible. There is only one possible conclusion. There must be something inherently shameful about the penis itself, so shameful that it is covered up even in a Japanese bathhouse.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that the penis is the most shameful part of the body. It is the last thing to be exposed to a lover; the most inappropriate thing imaginable to show in public, an object so taboo that I feel mildly embarrassed just writing about it. In most places in the world you'll be arrested more quickly for bringing a penis out in public than for bringing out a gun, sword, knife or rocket launcher. Hollywood movies will depict murder, assault, suicide, slavery, genocide, torture and Sarah Palin becoming president. They have no shame. Yet they won't show you a penis. Go figure.
I don't want to be ashamed of my penis. I want it to swing free. I want to feel the breeze. I want to glory in my genitalia.
I want to liberate the penis.