What getting naked in Japan (only in an onsen) teaches us about worship. Kind of.

Okay, so I started writing this blog post yesterday, thinking that the next few days are set to be both a little busy and a whole lot of fun! But then I got caught up in said fun starting…

So I’m continuing this blog post in the quiet stillness of early morning in a hostel that some new-friend’s of mine own in Sapporo.

I made a comment before Christmas that post-dissertation-work-load I would make up for all the parties I’d missed, and I am, quite frankly, staying true to my word 😉

I stayed here last night, at a place in another part of town for an event that my school was taking part in. It basically involved eating a whole lot of takoyaki (that’s octopus in dough… Amongst other things) and drinking a whole lot of tea. And talking with some super-interesting people who super-inspired me in their vision and creative ideas!

Today I’m working, and THEN meeting my beautifully-wonderful friend Laura at the airport (she’s actually going to be IN real-life Japan for a whole week!! LOVE!!!).

And after that we’re going straight to a big party a friend of mine is throwing. Because that’s how we roll on a Saturday.

Sunday involves two (yes, two) church services. Monday involves a breakfast party and another overnight stay at another hostel. Wednesday is a brunch party. (Bearing in mind I’m still working full time these days). BUT Thursday takes me, Laura and Ayumi off to posh-it-up in a 5* onsen hotel out of town for a short girls-relaxation-break.

Because after staying at two hostels in one week I really think a change of scenery is in order.

A week from now I anticipate being fully relaxed and refreshed… Having first perhaps been a tad tired from cramming quite a few activities into a short space of time.

But it’s not often that your real-life English friends can fly across the ocean to spend quality time with you on the other side of the world. And I think that merits a few days of burning the candle at both ends (and then crashing in an expensive hotel to recover!).

Actually, onsen hotels are a bit of a sticking point when friends from the UK come to visit.

I mean, not just onsen hotels, onsens in general are a bit of a sticking point when friends from the UK come to visit.

I mean I love onsens.

They are quite frankly, one of my favourite parts of living in Japan and are absolutely amazing.

Onsen literally means hot spring, and because Japan is a volcanically active country you can find thousands of these places all over Japan… Just there ready to be used to aid your relaxation after a hard day or week of work. You can find indoor and outdoor baths, all offering beautiful scenery, natural hot water, a variety of skin and health benefits (so every old Japanese person EVER has told me!), and undisturbed, unpressured time to unwind, be still, talk quietly with your friends, and (at this time of year) have the totally unique experience of sitting in warm water whilst surrounded by deep snow in the great-Hokkaido outdoors…

Sounds perfect, right?

So… The sticking point… I mean, I’ve mentioned this before, but the general sticking point that gets thrown my way when friends from the UK visit, is the distinct LACK of clothes that you are allowed to wear when you have entered said onsen.

In the UK (if you go to a substandard and non-natural spa) bathing suits are a must. In Japan, bathing suits are a must-NOT.

And I kind of get it… Like, if you’re English, the thought of being butt naked with a bunch of your friends and/or old Japanese women (remember, most onsens, and the only ones I go to, are at least same gender only!), kind of ruins your illusions about the relaxing point of slipping into a hot bath at the end of a long day.

We are the nation who hated communal showering in school with a passion, perfected the ‘knicker-twist’ in school changing rooms (the method of changing undergarments without actually being naked), and generally dread gym changing room layouts more than the gym itself.

And an onsen… It just sounds uncomfortable to us. I mean, you do get given a towel, that quite frankly, wouldn’t even cover one of you. A modesty towel this is certainly not… And you often see old Japanese Obaachan walking around with said-towel firmly placed upon their heads and not even attempting to cover their bodies.

But, I promise it’s not like the awkward images you have kicking around in your head. I mean, onsens are awesome, and you kind of just have to get over yourself a little bit and realise that no one is looking at you, because you are not the point of the onsen.

People go to the onsen to relax, and be in nature, and absorb the healing qualities of natural water… They are not concerned with looking at you, and if they were, they would be totally missing the point.

After a year of living in Japan, honestly, spending a couple of hours chatting away to my friends in a public bath feels totally normal. In a gaijin-living-in-Japan-and-doing-Japanese-things normal-yet-not-normal way.

And so… The point of today’s blog is not actually semi-public nudity… But worship.

Don’t switch off… I promise it’s not as random as it sounds.

Because I sometimes think that we approach worship (in it’s many forms and expressions), like the British tend to approach the onsen.

We get embarrassed about what we’ll look like when we’re not covered with anything.

We get embarrassed about the thought of what others will look like when they’re not covered with anything.

We would rather sit in the cafe outside than enter in and risk being really, really real in front of other people, in front of our friends, even in front of the God who already sees us at our most vulnerable.

We get scared when we think about singing loudly in church, or raising our hands in awe-struck worship, or dancing in joyful exuberance, or laying face down, or kneeling in reverence, or crying in brokenness, or any of those things that make us feel… Well… Naked.




And all of those emotions… In community.

It’s like a spiritual onsen.

And I guess that I was simply thinking, in the stillness of my morning (which has now by the way moved to my office… Because I had to come to work!), that just like the onsen is totally worth it because you are not the point of the onsen, so worship is totally worth it, because you are not the point of worship.

I mean, yes, worship is refreshing and uplifting and joyful and all of those things. But it’s bigger than that.

Worship is, as Richard Foster says, our response to the overtunes of love of the Father.

Jesus is the point of my worship.

Because Jesus is the point of my life.

And my existence.

I don’t need to worry about what I look like as I fight and enter into a place where I keep this place of worship, of connection between me and Holy Spirit open, because it is my response to the fact that He has already fought through death in order to be close to me.

As Hosanna Wong declares in her amazing performance poem, ‘His arms have already fought through death, His arms have already fought through sin, His arms have already fought through Hell, So no matter who I’ve been, or what I’ve done, He relentlessly fights for me… still.’

And sometimes, just like King David, who danced before the Lord in a way that humiliated himself in the eyes of everyone but God, so we must make the choice to enter into that place where we declare, ‘I will become even more undignified than this and I will be humiliated in my own eyes’.

Because it’s not about me. And it was never about me. And it will never be about me. And it will always be about Him.

Who is worthy of my song, and worthy of my thought-life, and worthy of my dance, and worthy of my art, and worthy of my expression, and worthy of my sacrifice.

So let’s go to an onsen. But, so much more than that… Let’s worship. In freedom and truth. For those are the kind of worshippers the Father is seeking.

Okay, and I couldn’t really think of an appropriate picture to post with this particular blog… So… Instead enjoy a drawing from my journal 🙂



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