Baths and Community / お風呂と社会
Traditionally, in Japan, taking a bath is one of the most important events of the day. For one thing, the Japanese have always held cleanliness in high regard, and they believe that nothing can get you truly clean except a good soak. More important, however, is the sense of community in bathing.
Until Western thought began to take over, there was no nudity taboo in Japan. Mixed bathing was common, and something that the whole community could enjoy. Even now, sentou (public bathhouses) and onsen (hot springs) are popular, and though genders are generally separated, it’s still something that brings people, across many generations, together. The bath is a place for people to unwind, to talk, to laugh, to bond, mother to child, elderly person to teenager.
The “family bath” scene in Miyazaki’s animated film Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) is something that might look shocking to Western eyes, but it is a scene of family bonding between the father and his two girls in the face of his wife and their mother’s being far away in a hospital being treated for some sort of chronic illness.
The only thing greater than a bath in terms of providing a sense of normalcy for the Japanese would be home-cooked meals. That is why the Japanese Self-Defense Force team felt that building baths for the survivors was a worthy use of time and resources.