Eternal Spring

Music: "Onsen" by Vector LoversThe Gangster in My Tub by Charles C. Mann
The Atlantic, November 2008

"The Japanese are great at inventing complex systems of rules, and not so great at explaining those rules to foreign visitors. ... Cleaning and soaking are two distinct activities, and baths are emphatically not for cleaning. Instead, you first go to an area outside the bath, where you sit on a little stool and wash yourself with fanatic thoroughness. ... The goal is to be so meticulously clean before climbing into the bath that you will not share any dirt with the other participants. If you fail to clean off, as I did the first time I went to an onsen, you will be rewarded by an unusual sight: half a dozen annoyed, naked people simultaneously exiting the water."

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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