14 year old Akito moves from Japan to small-town US Midwest. Utterly, utterly bewildered at the discovery that boys could actually be nervous about each other’s nudity. More of Akito’s experiences with his new Western homeland can be found on his (now discontinued) blog.
Although it might seem strange to some people, particularly those with a more conservative upbringing, but right up until I was 14 years old I had absolutely no concept of male prudishness. None whatsoever. I literal had no idea that one man might feel in any way uncomfortable at the thought of being in a state of undress while in the presence of another man.
I’d grown up in a world where such an idea simply didn’t exist. On the base, my world had consisted of servicemen who had absolutely no inhibitions at all around each other. The showered together, they got changed together, and they had a penchant for skinny-dipping together at every opportunity. Outside of the base, I went to public baths and hot springs where communal male nudity was the norm and I showered in school and after martial arts practice with people who’d had a similar upbringing and therefore were similarly without such inhibitions. Even in compound dwellers in Kyoto, for all their strange ways, never blinked at the thought taking a communal bath in the compound’s large bathhouse. In fact, it wasn’t until it came to taking a shower after gym; during my first year in an American school, that I even encountered the concept of male prudishness.
I remember it quite clearly, if only because it seemed so odd. I walked into the shower block and had just slung my towel onto a peg, so that it wouldn’t get wet, when I noticed how few other towels there were. I didn’t really pay it much heed, until I rounded the corner into the shower proper and realized why this was. About 90% of my classmates had their towel with them, around their wastes. In fact, there were only about 4 boys in the entire place who weren’t showering in a towel. Myself, a boy who I would later come to learn had grown up in an extended family where there were so many brothers to a bedroom and uncles to a bathroom that privacy was almost as alien a concept to him as male-prudishness was to me, and two boys whom I later realized were pretty much showing themselves off (as in, puberty had been a boon time for them).
As I stood there and showered, I noticed a couple of other odd things, too. Not only was everybody wearing a towel, but they were also acting rather strangely. There was a massively uncomfortable air amongst my classmates and each and every one of them kept their gaze locked on the wall straight in front of them.
They never diverted their eyes, not even for an instant. Even if one of them dropped the shampoo or soap, they wouldn’t look down. Some of them would short of crouch crab wise on the floor and grasp around blindly for it rather than divert their eyes from the wall in front of them. While other’s would carry on as if there had been no soap or shampoo at all, and would head back into the showers afterwards to retrieve it, rather than simply bend down and pick it up while their classmates were in there.
Things continued to be strange even once we were out of the shower. On the way out, one of the boys who had been towel-less slapped me across the shoulders and cryptically declared “so the rumors about Asian’s aren’t true”, to which there was a chorus of uncomfortable laughter (I’m sure you’re all familiar with said rumor about Asian men. However, at that age, I wasn’t). [In fact nowadays we know that Japanese men actually are ahead of the American competition when it comes to the average size / Ed.] The coach then made some equally cryptic comment about how we should “just keep counting the tiles” before hushing things down and hurried everybody out so that the next class could start.
After that first experience in the school showers I noticed that some of my classmates were behaving slightly differently around me. More apprehensive, more distant. At first I put this down to the events of the class itself (in which I had made a slight seen over the coach referring to my using my Mother’s family name, rather than my father’s. Which is another story entirely). It was only later on that I learned that they were uncertain what to make of a boy who’d happily showered nude, but who wasn’t showing himself off. Thinking back, I really didn’t pick up on the whole prudishness thing at all, at least not as anything more than a generically uncomfortable vibe. A couple of people made cryptic comments to me, but I’d only been in America for a couple of months by then and I simply didn’t make the connection (I’ve always been a bit dense in that way), and it wasn’t until about three weeks later that I found out what the whole deal was, or even that there was a deal to begin with.
One day, just after we’d finished showering the school’s soccer coach came up to me and tried to delicately explain that I might want to start shower in a towel. I didn’t understand, so he explained it less delicately. I still didn’t understand. So he came out with it bluntly. Which rather shocked me. He also told me that there had been complaints from one or two of the parents that I was naked in the same shower as their children. Which shocked me even more.
Once I got over the shock I felt a little embarrassed. Not because I’d been naked, but rather because of the thought that other people might see me being naked in any way other than it being perfectly normal and natural. After that I tried showering in a towel for a week or so, but it felt unnatural – Like taking a bath with your clothes on or wearing jeans at a formal event – so I gave up and went on as I’d always done. It honestly felt more embarrassing to shower in a towel than to shower without one.
On a slightly different note, it was also about that time that I started to become militantly Japanese, and turned against anything American which I felt might have an undue influence on me. Once I entered this phase of my life I put aside all thoughts of conforming with what I saw as American prudishness, and I showered naked for the rest of my time at the school.
I did this partly out of spite, but mostly because the only thing about my body that I’ve ever been embarrassed about in my entire life is the fact that I am quite tall. Which is pretty obvious to everybody whether I am naked or not.
Sent in by Rimmer, thanks. Photos by Will McBride