Tag Archives: bathing

Secrets of the Soak

To go along with the excerpts from KAGAMI, and to expand a bit on pieces of Japanese culture and life that pop up now and then, Sugoi! posts are here, starting with number one (this one): secrets of the soak!

With Japanese culture making waves in the West, a number of things have started to stick out as “different”. Some of them are pretty obvious, but at the same time, ‘obvious’ observations come with some…well, not-so-obvious limitations. Manners and customs, like anything else, grow up in a culture over many years, and generally for a reason (even if the reason has been forgotten). You can’t see them just by looking at a thing, and it takes time to adapt to new manners and traditions – but it helps to know what you’re getting into before you literally get into it!

A Little Bit Of History

Everything about bathing in Japan, including the bathroom itself – the ofuraba – is just a little different. The story of the Japanese bath starts with the onsen and sento. An onsen is the kind of bath that we’d all love to vacation at: a natural hot spring.

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An onsen at Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan

Since the Japanese islands are volcanic, hot springs are all over the place, and have traditionally served as public baths. Fun fact – the oldest hotel in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is Japan’s Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan – it’s been operating since 705 AD! As the name gives away, the Keiunkan’s onsen are one of its main attractions. But despite the fact that Japan is volcanic, there aren’t an infinite number of hot springs, so as the population grew, sento sprang up to fill the gaps. Just like the onsen, sento serve as public bathhouses, but instead of hot springs, they’re more like a bath at home. There are generally showers and/or faucets to bathe with, along with pools for relaxation, but they’re just filled with heated tap water.

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An Edo or early Meiji period sento: note the lack of male bathers, as well as the buckets being used to wash outside the baths proper.

Sento can be traced back to the Nara period, during the 700’s, when Buddhism started making inroads in Japan. Steam baths in temples became commercial bathhouses over the course of several hundred years (there’s mention of one in 1266), but these were still steam baths – tiny, dark, humid rooms where a patron was sent with their hot water ration, since there were no faucets yet. Skip ahead a few centuries more to the Edo period, and by the 1800’s, baths were beginning to look more like one might find in a modern sento.

Keep in mind, both onsen and sento are public baths, and traditionally, kon’yoku, or mixed-gender bathing, was allowed. However, during the 1800’s, kon’yoku was gradually banned more and more as Japan was opened to the West, making it rare nowadays to find a bath that offers such an option. And of course, as it became easier and more affordable to have a bath at home, fewer people frequented the public baths in general. Modern Japan’s houses and apartments have their own baths, just as in the West, even if a Japanese ofuraba isn’t much like a Western bathroom. Sento linger, regardless, as places for people to bond and as cultural centers that serve as a reminder of old times. Onsen are now an enormous part of the Japanese tourist industry, but they’re also a fixture of the modern Japanese lifestyle. Not much beats a weekend at a hot spring!

Inside The Ofuraba

Now, to the important stuff! If you’ve read the scene I posted, or are an anime person (I see you, otaku!), you’ll be familiar with the fact that the ofuraba is nothing like a Western bathroom.

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An ofuraba.

Firstly, ofuraba is better translated as ‘bathing room’ than ‘bathroom’, because toilets in Japan have their own space – they aren’t in the same room as the bath. Secondly, the ofuraba is usually a smaller room than Western bathrooms, often like a walk-in shower with the tub along one wall. Finally, ofuro, Japanese bathtubs, are deeper than Western tubs, but also smaller. They’re meant for soaking, not for “bathing” in the sense of washing.

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A modern ofuro. Note the showerhead and bathing accessories outside!

Ofuro themselves used to be nothing more than wooden boxes, or even cauldrons with a fire underneath, but like everything else these days, technology has gone to work on them. Now you can find ofuro made of exotic materials, with all kinds of upgrades like the ones that come with Western bathtubs. The shape, however, remains classically Japanese, and a square tub with flat sides that don’t slope makes a definite change from a Western tub.

But the strangest part about bathing in Japan for a Westerner is probably the process of bathing itself. Instead of soaping up in the tub, or just climbing into a tub of hot water and rinsing in the shower afterward, ofuro are meant for soaking after you’ve already washed. When you walk into the ofuraba, you scrub off first, outside the ofuro. Usually that means showering – Japan is probably the number one place in the world for movable showerhead-hoses. In more old-fashioned homes, the bucket-and-rinse method is still used, but in either case, it’s a huge faux pas to enter the bath without having at least rinsed off first.

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An ofuro with its cover on.

It’s just as important you make sure not to get soap in the yubune – the bathwater – as it is to make sure you scrub beforehand! Often the bathwater isn’t changed between soakers, but daily. Instead, the ofuro and yubune are covered while not being used, much like a jacuzzi, and the water is reheated later – though these days, recirculation systems make it easy to keep the water hot.

It’s also not uncommon for people to bathe together, even at home in ‘private’ baths. There’s the obvious necessity of making sure kids get clean, which means families tend to bathe together, but more than that, bathing is a ritual in Japan that promotes closeness. There’s even a special term for it: hadaka no tsukiai, which translates roughly to “naked communion”, or “skinship”. The idea is that in the relaxed, necessary openness enforced by nudity, people bond more easily and honestly. This has been important enough that older Japanese people are expressing concern for modern children, who are growing up without the custom of public bathing. As to whether or not the custom dies out completely, only time will tell.

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A bath scene by Toyohara, showing an old-fashioned mixed bath.

Regardless of whether one bathes alone or with others, the idea of bathing as leisure time, as well as something beneficial to health and hygiene, is deeply engrained in Japanese culture. It’s a lifestyle I’m having fun adapting as I write. I don’t have a furo, but a nice long soak is a wonderful way to relax…and contemplate the next thing Sugoi!

P.S: For those wondering how I picture Akira’s ofuraba, the one described in the excerpt, take a look at this little gem! It’s even got a shoji in the background (a Japanese sliding door) and what I can only imagine is a grumpy Kagami, soaking alone!Noodle In Bath

First Night

It’s #1lineWed again! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from First Nights,  the sequel to The Other Alpha. It’s a steamy start to a steamy story, and picks up RIGHT where The Other Alpha left off.

Keep an eye out, because First Nights  is released this coming Friday!  

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Stelios was so hot. So hot, and the head of his cock was smooth as satin on Niketas’ tongue. Niketas had thought there would be some flavor, like the scent of his skin, but everything had been washed away by the water.

Stelios leaned back against the edge of the tub and let Niketas take more of his cock into his mouth, and more – god there was no way he was going to be able to take it all, but he wanted to and he didn’t even know why. He tried to remember what women had done to him, what felt good, or what he’d wanted, then pulled up and curled his tongue around the head of Stelios’ cock.

Stelios sucked in a breath, and Niketas was surprised at the instant pulse of heat that flickered to life in his belly. He did it again, wanted to make Stelios moan for him, then sucked him down harder, licked the length of his cock and tried to take more than before. He choked a little, then lifted his head to take a breath and tried again – god so much cock, there was no way, no way, but he wanted it, wanted to-

Stelios reached out and pulled his hair, tugged his head back until Niketas only had the head of his cock in his mouth, could look up and meet his eyes. “If you want to take it all, I’ll help you. But you don’t have to. I know it’s your first time.”

His cock twitched a little on Niketas’ tongue as he said that, got even harder, and Niketas felt himself flushing. He rolled his tongue around the tip and oh that was it. There was the taste of him, salt and Stelios.

So good. He tastes so –

Niketas tried more tongue, sucked harder, took Stelios deeper into his mouth with every stroke, then pulled up again. Oh yeah. He lifted his mouth off and licked wetness from the tip of Stelios’ cock, then did it all over again.

“Fuck, look at you. You like the taste of me, Niketas?”

Niketas flushed darker, scowled and looked up at Stelios anyway. “So what if I do, I-”

“Gorgeous. No idea what you look like, do you? On your knees for me, licking my cock like that. Just for the taste of me.” He tugged at Niketas’ hair, then leaned back again, shifted his hips so more of his cock stood out from the water. “Well? Go on. You looked like you were having fun.”

“Yeah. I mean – yes, Sir.”

“Better. Now, get your mouth back on my cock.”

Niketas wrapped his lips around the tip, licked all over then took him deeper and moaned softly as Stelios pulled his hair. Despite the fact that he’d come what – three times? Four? – while Stelios was fucking him, while he’d been tied up, Niketas felt his cock twitching against his thigh, getting harder while he sucked. God, what was wrong with him?

Submissive.

The word echoed in the voices of both his Alphas, Luka’s amusement and Stelios’ desire.

Was this what it meant, too? Not just liking the way Stelios tied him up, kept him from coming – liking to be on his knees for him? Wanting the taste of him…wanting his moans, his heavy breaths. Fuck. Niketas shifted and almost reached for his own cock, but he knew without even asking that Stelios wouldn’t allow that. Instead he sucked harder, licked under the head where he knew he liked to be teased himself and tightened his grip on Stelios’ thighs when Stelios groaned and thrust up into his mouth.

“Knew you’d be – good with that mouth. More tongue, yes, like that. Just like that. Can you take more?”

Niketas moaned, sucked harder and took another inch, then another, choked and had to pull back. Then Stelios’ hands were in his hair, guiding him as he gave soft instructions. “Relax. Relax your throat or you won’t be able to take it. Better. Now swallow. Swallow. Yes. Enough now – oh that’s good. So good with your tongue. Take it again for me, just like that.”

He moved his hands lightly through Niketas’ hair, barely pulling, almost a caress. Niketas moaned and obeyed, and this time took Stelios’ cock deeper, more than half, before he had to pull back again and take a breath. He kept doing that, again, and again, until Stelios tightened a fist in his hair and swore.

“Fuck. So good. Gonna come in your mouth – is that what you want, Niketas?”

“Mmm – mmmm.” He wanted to taste it, wanted to feel Stelios come and know he’d done it, wanted to hear him moaning – wanted to taste it. He sucked harder, pointed the tip of his tongue and traced over and over that sensitive spot just under the head of Stelios’ cock, and got just what he’d wanted.

He groaned loud and his fingers went tight in Niketas’ hair, held him still while Stelios bucked his hips up again and again, fucking into his mouth as he came. Sweet. Salt. Bitter. Stelios. Niketas shuddered, licked all around the tip of Stelios’ cock and swallowed him down again, wanting more – more.

He sucked and a last few drops spilled hot onto his tongue, but he didn’t lift his mouth away until Stelios pulled him back by his hair.

“Stop that, before I make you do it all again.”

“I’ll do it again -”

His breathing was unsteady and heavy, his voice more eager than his words, but he didn’t care. Stelios chuckled, reached down and wiped under Niketas’ bottom lip with his thumb. “Yes, you will.” Niketas licked at his thumb, sucked a drop of come off it and was surprised at Stelios’ sudden growl, the heat of his mouth pressed against Niketas’.

Stelios kissed him harder, deeper, fucked his mouth with his tongue and never mind that Niketas had to taste like nothing but him. It was almost like he –

“Taste so good, Niketas. Even better with me on your tongue.”

“You – you like that?” He panted against Stelios’ mouth as he kissed him again.

“Yes. But that’s enough of that for now, I brought you in here to clean you up and look you over, not make more of a mess out of you. Not tonight, anyway.”

“O-Oh.”

Stelios laughed at him again. “Too eager for your own good, aren’t you? Get over here.”