Clark: "Viewing Japan from the Bath"

Clark, S. (1994). Japan, a view from the bath. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.







The Research


Lived in Japan 30 mos beginning in 1968. Occasionally visited public baths (due to shower failure); noted patterns, community, etc. "the sento became a delightful place to combine hygiene and social intercourse" (9). Began to "pay attention." Noted experience in Germany with Japanese tourists. Realized deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and practices. He realized he had never really experienced a "Japanese bath." Beginning "research informal, undirected, and sporadic" (10).


Collected anecdotes. Wrote a short paper on baths for grad work in anthropology. Couldn''t find much scholarship. Didn''t know if "pan-Japanese" characteristics of bathing.


Notes: "to understand the cultural, social, and symbolic contexts of bathing I had missed in my earlier experiences, it was necessary that I study at least some of these practices as well as others of which I was not initially aware" (12). Furthermore, would have to compare across several regions. Could have done case study, but wanted to do careful ethnographic study to claim some generality or make an authoritative statement. States study bathing in broad sense, universe of sampling population would be entire country, and study would have to include history, regional variation, and as much of the related cultural symbolism as possible" (13).


Lit review (Japanese scholars) on bathing practices historically, but little on ideological dimensions of bathing in contemporary Japan.


Developed local study and wide-ranging survey using participant-observation and in-depth interviewing techniques. Went to various regions... "wandering ethnography" (13).


Lived in Tokyo suburb proximity to Tokyo''s "old city"-- access. People in suburb from all over Japan.


Issue of sampling...divided country into 9 regions, participant-observer in bathhouses, hot springs, etc. Also interviewed people on trains, buses, etc. men, women, young, old.


Notes bathing alone in homes/hotels offered possibilities for comparison checked and compared with informants.


Visited certain places with more frequency (15-- see examples).


Population concerned more "mixed-sex bathing" (highly controversial in Japan)...when found out comprehensive, people opened up. People enthusiastic, but had not realized how much taken for granted in culture.


Intended to record at least age, sex, profession, and region of origin of each informant, Soon proved inpossible.


Study as not as far-reaching or precise as hoped. Some regional differences difficult/impossible for Clark to sort out. Not so much architecture but customs. Limited by him on his own. Need well-staffed research team.