May 3, 2008
The American tendency is to associate any display of skin with sex and because of this I imagine many here would have a hard time wrapping their minds around the traditional Japanese sentos (public baths) and onsens (hot springs) you find all over Japan. In the most traditional village sentos families, neighbors, and co-workers bathe together, male/female, young/old with everyone gloriously and unabashedly naked. During my visits to Japan I was sometimes invited to join friends for baths after work and was always struck by the family atmosphere in these places—everyone with their little washcloths resting on their heads washing, gossiping, and just enjoying the warm soak.
Hiroyo Kaneko's series titled Sentimental Education gives us a bit of the feel of these places. When I compare these nude figures to the contrived "we're all so so naked and we don't care!' figures in Ryan McGinley's recent work I'm reminded that often the best way to showcase someone's humanity is by catching them in the middle of their most ordinary daily rituals.
Related: Sento at 6th and Main by Gail Dubrow.