VIDEO | Looking for intimacy in a crowd of strangers in Japan and South Korea


Hotels in Japan may not turn away gay couples. The Ministry of Health issued a warning to the sector. It reminds me of my trip to Nippon in 2013, where I witnessed something strange.

The Ministry of Health has warned hotels and specifically love hotels they can’t turn away same-sex couples. More in this at

What for us Belgians sounds dodgy, is very common in Japan. Couples go to love hotels to have sex because they can’t find privacy at home. The square meter is so expensive and people live in small spaces. Walls are also literally paper-thin.

I wasn’t discriminated for being gay in Japan back in March 2013. But I did experience this phenomenon: Japanese people look for intimacy in a crowd of strangers.

Onsen and jjimjilbang

Onsen (Japan) and jjimjilbang (Korea, where I stayed in 2014) are bathhouses. Historically hot springs, these are places where Japanese and Koreans go for a wash and a cleanse. The ritual is highly regulated. Men and women are separated.

Writing about this issue reminds me of an old post by Brenton Parry. But there are more videos on the subject.


I visited two onsen in Japan. One was a natural hot spring in a hotel in Hakone in the Kanagawa prefecture on Honshū. This was the luxurious version. A hotel onsen with all you could wish for. People go there to relax.

The second was a very day to day onsen in Kyoto. Nothing fancy at all. But it felt more genuine.

In Seoul, South Korea I visited the famous Dragon Hill Spa. Although there a few differences between the Japanese and Korean take on the activity, they both have in common people go there to not only relax, but to actually wash and groom.

Why not?

I saw there men grooming. I saw men not only wash their hair and body and brush their teeth, I saw guys trim their pubic hair. And I thought Asians liked quite a bush.

That sounds odd to us, no? But it made m think: why not? When you don’t have privacy at home and you’re not comfortable your mum witnessing you grooming and manscaping, why not do it with strangers? You don’t know these guys.


I did not go as far following their example. I didn’t feel like shaving a with a disposable blade as I get razor burn very easily.

But even people present don’t talk, I felt a bonding. There’s something really nice and natural about sharing, washing and cleaning together. Without any sexual tension.

When I’ll go back to Japan or Korea, I’ll definitely go to onsen and jjimjilbang.


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