Not all parents are happy with the stricter regulation.

Communal bathing has long been a part of traditional Japanese culture. Mixed-gender bathing, though, or konyoku, as it’s called in Japanese, is something that’s been largely phased out at hot springs and sento (public baths), with the vast majority of such facilities now having two separate bathing areas for male and female customers.

An exception is made for young children though, with Japanese society, for the most part, thinking it’s no big deal for a mother to take her young son into the women’s bath with her, or vice-versa for a father and daughter in the men’s bath. The question is what age qualifies as “young,” there’s now a new legal cutoff in Tokyo.

Previously, children as old as nine were allowed into the bath for the opposite sex, provided they were bathing with a parent or guardian, of course. As of January 1, though, the new age limit is six, meaning that once children hit the age of 7, boys are legally allowed only in the men’s bath, and girls the women’s.

The new ordinance comes in the wake of a survey by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare last spring which found 6 and 7 to be the ages at which the largest number of children felt embarrassed by being in the bath for the opposite sex. The ministry then recommended that lawmakers revise their jurisdictions’ regulations accordingly, with Tokyo, and a number of other municipalities, making the change at the start of 2022.

As the new policy went into effect, some parents at a public bath in Tokyo’s Higashikurume district weren’t happy about the stricter rules, as shown in the video below. A father who came with his three children, two sons and an eight-year-old daughter, was disappointed that the group won’t all be able to go into the bath together, as was the girl herself.

Another mother worries about sending her son into the men’s bath on his own when he turns 7, and the concern isn’t just about the child’s safety. In Japanese-style bathing, you’re supposed to thoroughly wash your body at a shower station so that you’re completely clean by the time you dip so much as a toe in the communal tub, in order to keep the shared bathwater clean. The mother wonders if a seven-year-old will be able to meet that standard of cleanliness without a parent present to double-check their self-washing skills. A still grubby kid jumping into the tub could cause discomfort for the other bathers as well as problems for the bathhouse’s staff if so much grime is tracked into the tub that it has to be drained and cleaned before customers can get back in.

However, the vast majority of commenters on the video have no problem with the new law, with some saying it doesn’t go far enough.

“Just gonna have to make sure your kids can properly wash themselves by the time they’re 7. That’s part of raising them right.”
“I’m fine with this. There was a startlingly old girl in the men’s bath one time when I went in, and I’m sure a boy that big in the women’s bath would have made them feel uncomfortable too.”
“I think they should make the age limit for being in the opposite sex’s bath even lower.”
“I think 3 or 4 years old should be the max.”
“It’s kind of a difficult question, since there are many kinds of family situations [such as single parents or families where both parents can’t come to the bathhouse at the same time because of work].”
“If it’s such a problem for parents, then they don’t have to come to the public bath in the first place.”

As alluded to by the last comment, though communal bathing was once more or less an unavoidable necessity of life in Japan, in the modern era it’s pretty much an optional way to get clean. Two or three generations ago, it still wasn’t all that unusual for Japanese homes, especially those of working-class families, to lack bathing facilities, meaning family members had to make regular trips to their neighborhood public bath. Nowadays, though, all but the most spartan of apartments have a bath/shower combo, so going to the sento is more a leisure activity than a cornerstone of anyone’s hygiene routine.

That shift in public bath usage habits is likely part of the reason why the age limit has now been changed, and even prior to the new rule going into effect, it was unusual to see nine-year-olds in the opposite sex’s bath. If going to a sento is a purely discretionary choice, then the question of what makes bathers’ time there comfortable and enjoyable becomes more important, and “That kid seems kind of old to be in this bath to me, but maybe he/she doesn’t have any other options” becomes a less likely conclusion.

Sources: Tele Asa News via Yahoo! Japan News via Jin, YouTube/ANNnewsCH
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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