Surgery scar cover is a rare exception to Japan’s traditional no-clothes-in-the-bath rule.

For communal bathing in Japan, whether at a natural onsen hot spring or a piped-in sento public bath, the general rule is that everyone in the tub is supposed to be naked. Stepping into the tub while wearing a bathing suit or wrapped in a towel is believed to sully the purity of the shared water, and Japanese society for the most part holds that nudity in these situations isn’t anything to get embarrassed about (being au naturel is totally natural, after all, when taking a bath).

However, Nagano Prefecture-based apparel company Bright Eyes understands that breast cancer survivors may feel uncomfortably self-conscious going to an onsen if they have mastectomy scars or other visible surgery aftereffects. To help such individuals continue to enjoy Japan’s communal bathing culture, Bright Eyes, whose CEO, Hitomi Kato, is a breast cancer survivor herself, developed a special garment it calls the Bath Time Cover.

The Bath Time Cover, which is available with either a hook or tie to hold it in place across the upper abdomen, looks like a simple one-shoulder undershirt. However, when the wearer removes the rest of her clothes before entering the bathing facility, she leaves the Bath Time Cover on. The garment’s material is specially crafted so that she can wash her body over it and the soap will rinse away with warm water. Even more importantly, the fabric is designed to be have no negative impact on the hygiene or quality of the shared bathwater, with this function confirmed by researchers at Nagano’s Shinshu University and also endorsed by the Japanese federal government’s Ministries of Health, Labor and Welfare, Internal Affairs and Communications, and Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

▼ The Bath Time cover is also quick-drying, so that the wearer can easily towel it off along with her body when exiting the bath before putting the rest of her clothes back on.

Bright Eyes has been selling the Bath Time Cover for close to 20 years, but the garment still remains relatively unknown in Japanese society. A recent tweet from Japanese Twitter user @studio15heart, who spotted an awareness poster for such covers in Mie Prefecture, got plenty of people’s attention, with many commenters saying they’d never heard of them before.

Kato says that initially, Bright Eyes employees themselves went around to hot springs and ryokan inns within Nagano to help spread the word, and have since obtained the cooperation of the Nagano prefectural government in encouraging bath operators to allow the covers’ use through activities such as putting up public awareness posters (for those wishing to confirm if a bath allows them, the Japanese phrase is “Kizuato wo kabaa suru nyuuyokugi wo tsukatte mo ii desu ka?”).

▼ “The hot springs of Shinshu [the traditional name of the Nagano region] welcome the use of bath garments to cover scars” reads the largest text.

Kato says that while there was some initial reluctance from bath operators, these days the garments have won wide acceptance. “Recently, they can be used at most places with no issues,” she says. She encourages those who do encounter resistance to contact Bright Eyes, who will in turn get in touch with the operator and explain the reason for and construction of the garments, which she says is almost always enough to secure happy cooperation.

It should be noted that the use of Bright Eyes’ bath garments is completely user-driven. Japanese hot springs have no standing policies barring bathers who have surgery scars or requiring them to cover them. However, for individuals who make the personal choice to do so, Bright Eyes offers its Bath Time covers for sale directly through its website here, as well as through Amazon here, for 4,104 yen (US$37).

Sources: IT Media, Nagano Prefecture, Togetter, Bright Eyes
Top image: Bright Eyes
Insert images: Bright Eyes, Nagano Prefecture