Finding an Oasis in a Foreign Labyrinth: Japanese Bathing Culture in Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

by AJtheFourth.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisee Yune bath

When in a place that is completely foreign to them, especially for an extended period of time, people tend to seek out creature comforts that remind them of home. This way, even for a small moment, they can be connected with something familiar and comforting.

It may seem a wonder then that, in a series about a Japanese girl who moves halfway around the world to Paris, France, we rarely see our heroine, Yune, pine for home in Ikoku Meiro no Croisée. Instead, she decides to take the admirable and optimistic route of gamely trying everything that 1800s Paris has to offer, even if it means that she has to dip her cheese in soy sauce in order to stomach the taste. The viewer rarely sees her yamato nadeshiko mask slip. As Yi said in her previous post on fashion and haute couture, what Yune brings with her to Paris is not simply a wardrobe filled with cherry blossom lacquer combs and richly embroidered kimonos but her Japanese mind frame and attitude as well.

Ikoku Merio no Croisee Yune Claude

However, even Yune is not immune to refreshing herself with something a bit more familiar to her, and she does so in episode four, when she sneaks off at night, unsuccessfully, to take a bath.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisee Yune Claude spill

For Yune a bath is not a means of cleansing herself, as Claude mistakenly labels the scene as such after accidentally walking in on her. Coming from a culture of onsen and communal bathing, Yune more than likely, as Oscar points out, has been longing for a bath for quite some time in order to relax and restore herself. In Japan, baths are not for cleansing oneself, but for respite and rejuvenation. (In fact, one is expected to clean their body before entering a bath, especially a public one. To not do so is considered extremely rude.) Public baths are also considered to be places where social barriers are somewhat lowered. While washing away the stress of the daily grind it becomes easier to talk to people regardless of their social status outside of the bath.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisee Alice bath

A bath means something completely different to Claude, who scolds Yune for wasting water. It is a luxury and a means of manipulation for Alice, who uses the bath as a lure in her attempt to force Yune to stay with her. At the climax of the episode, Yune eschews the comfort and familiarity of the bath in order to fulfill a promise that she made to Claude, once again reiterating her place as an ambassador of a social attitude. In context, when one considers exactly what that bath probably meant to Yune, it makes her determination in begging Alice that she be returned to Claude because of her promise (to make him dinner of all things) even more significant and poignant.

Traveling around the world to live in a place completely foreign is bound to make anyone long for the comforts of home, even for someone as determined and open-minded as Yune. What familiar things do you seek out after having spent some time in a foreign place?

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About the Guest Author:
AJtheFourth is a lovely friend who shares incredible insights. She is also just a wonderful, fascinating person. She writes for The Untold Story of Altair & Vega, which, like her, has quickly become one of my favorites. Do make a visit there! 

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39 Responses to Finding an Oasis in a Foreign Labyrinth: Japanese Bathing Culture in Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

  1. wieselhead says:

    In the end poor Yune has to smell like the other people around.
    Claude was quite strict with her all the time.
    I could imagine that people with a less retentive personality
    wouldn’t break with their old and beloved bathing habits that easily.

    personally I would have preferred to stay in the tub with Alice ^^

    Well, what I always miss when Im away from home is my bed with it’s comfortable mattress =)

    • ajthefourth says:

      Claude was strict the majority of the time or, if not strict then very direct and straightforward (although the fact that they didn’t get to go to the bathhouse was due more to Alice sweeping Yune away, then Claude not wanting to). I think Yune suppressed her desire to bathe because she, more than likely, knew that it was a luxury in Paris.

      It’s been a year since I moved to a far away, completely different part of the country than what I was used to. I miss the changing of the seasons, especially the scents in the air in autumn, the most. Fortunately, there’s a little haven for me near to where I live with plenty of trees. Currently they are changing color and giving off that musty scent. ^ ^

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. BorneoBlend says:

    Honestly, when I watched that scene I was more in shock on the fact that French commoners don’t bath daily..

    • Marow says:

      Isn’t this set in the 1800s? You didn’t bath as often back then.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Echoing what Marow said, I think bathing just wasn’t as common back then in Europe in general. In fact, If I’m not mistaken, bathing daily wasn’t common until late 19th century/early 20th century. This was compounded by the fact that most private residences didn’t have water running to them. As the water infrastructure grew (along with correct claims that bathing more frequently staved off disease), so did the frequency of baths.

      • Curuniel says:

        And with more frequent bathing came a gradual transition from viewing baths as a luxury to viewing them (/showers/hygeine in general) as a necessity of civilization and health. In my opinion, it has crossed well into the territory of morality now – only a bad person doesn’t bathe, that’s how we know we can’t trust the unwashed, right? It’s more like ritual purity/pollution than basic health.

        • ajthefourth says:

          Hnnn…that’s an interesting way of looking at it re: morality. I had honestly never thought of it that way. For me, encountering an unwashed person signifies more that they possibly can’t afford a bath, or perhaps that they simply don’t care about their own personal hygiene, which tends to signify more of a lack of self-esteem or self-worth, due to the fact that it is socially unacceptable to not bathe. Again, I don’t know how much the moral aspect would enter into it; however, I do find it interesting how “offended” people get at the idea of not bathing, or how overly conscious they become to the point of bathing several times a day to keep themselves clean. In a way, it’s another version of self-loathing, implying that the body at some level is always “unclean,” hey, I guess that ties into your idea of morality after all. ^ ^ Thanks for the comment!

  3. Seinime says:

    I go to the seaside when visiting any foreign place. No matter how different and stunning different places might offer with their unique scenery, I always find places like beaches or areas beside the sea refreshing. The allure of the ocean blue which connects us all.

  4. gozieson says:

    Everyone would to some degree feel homesick. I know I’d be lamenting on what kinds of things coursed to do if I left Malaysia. For me, I’d miss the food, and pirated goods…😄

    • ajthefourth says:

      I grew up near the ocean (as I mentioned above) and being in a landlocked place I miss seafood, so I can definitely understand the yearning for food.

      Pirated goods…haha. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Persocom says:

    Japanese bathing culture is indeed unique. The closest thing I’ve been to a public bath is the showers back when I was in school and I’ll tell ya, it’s not anything to enjoy😄 I like the idea of public bathing for rejuvenation rather than simply cleaning, but seeing how I’ve been raised in a country that thinks if parents bathe with their children (for example) they’re pedophiles, there’s quite a huge difference. Bathing isn’t “fun” it’s just something you need to do to not stink here. It is interesting how such things can be hugely different from country to country.

    • ajthefourth says:

      You’re absolutely right, and taking it one step further, I rarely hear of anyone “bathing” anymore. For the most part, my friends and I all take showers in order to cleanse ourselves rather than taking a bath. Taking a bath for me insinuates luxury, or relaxation instead of cleanliness, while showering is the must-do part of a routine to keep yourself clean.

      Thank you for the comment!

  6. jreding says:

    Recently I’ve been to Iceland and I learned that this country also has an impressive bathing culture. It seems that people go frequently (some every day) to one of the many public thermal baths and spend some time after work sitting in warm outdoor pools and chatting with each other. When I was there it was sunny outside and super pleasant and enjoyable! Iceland also has lots of hot springs and I could imagine that people in the countryside have their own hot springs at home.

    I don’t know if this bathing culture already existed in 19th century but if so maybe Yune should have gone to Reykjavik instead of Paris!

    • ajthefourth says:

      Ah! That sounds like so much fun! I can’t help but think that the bathing cultures both that you describe in Iceland, and the one in Japan, have come to be due to their abundance of hot springs. My parents recently went on a trip to Yellowstone, and when I suggested that someone should design an outdoor hot springs bath there, they looked at me as if I were nuts. Geography surely plays a large portion in the evolution of bathing culture.

      Iceland sounds like such a fun place to visit…I want to go now…

      Thank you for commenting!

  7. There may be an explanation for this difference in bathing culture, and I do believe that it has something to do with location. Let’s think about what a bath consists of. You need water and a heat source to warm it up. Water is no problem, but where to get the source of heat is the problem. Wood was scarcer in France in the past, I believe, and the Parisians, plus Claude, couldn’t possibly afford to waste the wood for heat. Now, Japan on the other hand, has far more woodlands and plenty of wood to spare. Thus, Japanese could afford to take baths more frequently. A minor rambling, perhaps, but just tossing out my thoughts. ^_^

    For me, the familiar things that I seek out would be places where I could see the starry skies clearly. After all, the night sky is the one thing that has always been familiar to me for my entire life!

    • ajthefourth says:

      Ah…another aspect of geography that I haven’t thought about, along with the natural hot springs. Thanks for the insight! Also, I think that water was a problem until cities began to develop their own water systems around the turn of the century. Before then, there wasn’t running water available, unless one was extraordinarily rich.

      Yes, I have noticed an attention to detail that you have regarding the night sky. That’s such a romantic notion, and a creature comfort that isn’t hard to come by either. ^ ^

      Thank you for the comment!

  8. I have never actually have any problems of familiarity (or lack thereof) no matter where i travel to.
    But the rest of my family do, especially my mum and sis so they can’t sleep in a new bed or are extremely disoriented on the first day. I suppose its all because humans like the familiar and dislike change. I sleep on the floor all the time so i have no problem with sleeping on the floor no matter where i am ;D

    About Japan’s baths, I did find it really new when i went there. Communal baths is a topic best left untouched here (because its awkward as hell in them XD). But i went along just fine with the bathing in huge hot springs. Once again, not my family though. (I loved pouring the ice cold water from the mountain spring onto myself after a dip in the hot spring. The best way to wake up XD)

    • ajthefourth says:

      I have no problem sleeping anywhere except on airplanes. As long as I am not on an airplane, I will pass out pretty much anywhere, including on the floor, on others’ unsuspecting shoulders, etc. ^ ^

      Hnn…I would certainly have a large amount of apprehension about public baths…I’ve always wondered exactly how awkward they are. In anime, we only see baths played up for laughs or, as written above, a way of comparing and contrasting societal norms. One wonders if the awkwardness in our perception of what a public bath would be would apply to those who use them regularly in their culture, if that makes sense.

      Thank you for the comment. Sorry it took so long to respond to…

  9. SnippetTee says:

    Just to add, because bath is considered luxury in France, it’s no wonder why perfumes were developed in this country. I was expecting somebody would recommend that to Yune because she couldn’t take a bath but unfortunately nobody did.

    For me after I travel, I always seek out the relaxing flashes and lights of my city, and the comforts of my very own bed and pillows. Also, there’s always that unmatchable sense of security and relieve once I get back home.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Oh…that’s an interesting aside. One of the reasons that perfume took off so much in France (other than the proper geography and atmosphere for growing large fields of flowers) was to mask body odors by noblemen and women (this actually began in Renaissance Italy, but really flourished in France for both reasons I mentioned). Someone mentioning that to Yune really would have been a nice historical touch. ^ ^

      Thank you for commenting!

  10. Ryan A says:

    In reading Edward Morse’s 1886 Japanese Homes and their Surroundings (primarily a design and architecture study), and re-reading his section on baths just now, I realize much of his discussion was on the “vulgarity” of public bathing; the Western perception of group nakedness. The first few pages may have stunned Claude as he may not have been aware of the group bathing custom, but the idea of cleanliness is emphasized. While we are aware relaxation is part of the custom, Morse expressed that cleanliness was sometimes fairly extreme, with the Japanese working class (physical laborers, lower and middle class) taking multiple baths in a single day. It’s a stark contrast when many of that same social class in the West may never have experienced a bath in their lifetime.

    The different idea of personal cleanliness wasn’t as bad as we might assume in the West. No, they didn’t conduct a comprehensive cleaning, but often a quick scrub down in the kitchen with a hot wet cloth was considered acceptable. I think there was more issue in that daily cleanliness was simply no big deal in Western society, and many of the average social classes just didn’t consider how simple it may have been to construct a tub similar to the ones used in Japan.

    Furthering the idea of this cleanliness of traditional bathing. While the pre-bath washing is to clean the body, the hot water soak does offer a deeper cleansing (almost like detoxification) when considering the temperature, copper tubs, and other minerals which could be in the water (sulfur).

    As for what I seek… the ocean, beach, which may be common, but they all move differently. And maybe the sense of driving around in my own vehicle.

    • ajthefourth says:

      I like the difference between personal cleanliness and more of a holistic clean that one seeks from a bath. I’m wondering how much of Western perception seeps into what you read, where the author is only seeing bathing as cleaning one’s body only and therefore sees multiple baths as obsessive cleanliness, whereas the actual bathers may see it more as a ritualistic or holistic cleanliness. Interesting.

      The sense of driving around in your own vehicle, that’s something I never thought of, but a bit fascinating when one considers how much time we spend in vehicles. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Swordwind says:

    They sure had it rough back then, didn’t they?

    Of course, I guess we have our own troubles now.

    Thanks for the article~

  12. I would have definetly joined her to comfert that poor soul ^^

    cross-cultural situations i say happens to anyone or everyone, some take it more than others, Being half western but has mostly lived in Asia, i find it very hard when i decided to move to Cyprus and Greece for a short spell, although most of the aim was for the history and greek mythology, i really struggled with the way of life, and people use to tell me, “but arent you european?” all confused like.

    I think its mostly when you move to different continent that it really hits you…actually not necessarily.. if i were to move from France to Italy i guess wouldnt be that bad, or if i were to move from Singapore to Hong Kong… No rephrase, its all about the person state of mind.

    • ajthefourth says:

      It definitely depends on one’s state of mind; however, I have found that even moving within the same country carries with it an interesting perception from others. One doesn’t expect to feel homesick or lost, especially when moving within the same country that speaks the same language. There’s no drastic time change, not much lost in translation, and yet, there’s just enough different to be glaringly obvious.

      If anything, because one assumes that it’s such an easy thing to move from similar place to similar place, perhaps that’s why some of those moves can potentially be the hardest of all. Especially if, as you described, others’ perceptions are that it wouldn’t be anything but a trifle.

      Thanks for the comment.

  13. Yi says:

    Lovely post!! Agreed that baths, for Yune, are more for soul cleansing rather than physical cleaning. What strikes me more are the little things that you point out in addition to the bath–the little things Yune does to try to make sense of this new culture. For some reason, this post really resonates within me.

    “What familiar things do you seek out after having spent some time in a foreign place?”

    Oh gosh… So many things I’m missing more and more now that I’ve moved to Taiwan. It’s not necessarily just the physical comforts–the sunlight replaced by rain, different foods, transportation… etc. It’s also various aspects of interactions and sensibilities of many people here that I can’t just quite get used to. The ideas of fun, relationships… and such. Such a simple post, but so much for me to reflect upon. ^ ^

    Thank you for such an emotionally compelling post, Em! And as always, I love your writing and it’s an honor.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Well, I did write this post for you, after all.

      I wonder if, because most things that are truly different; the way we interact with others and the way others interact with us; are intangible, we tend to focus on smaller creature comforts as tools or objects that become an outlet for our frustration or loneliness. It’s easy to say that you miss your bed or the ocean, or what have you, and far more difficult to say, “I really miss the way people used to interact with me, even on a surface level.” I moved an inch compared to your miles and miles and still feel lonely and lost, since communicating with people here is still quite different than how I was raised.

      Thank you so much for hosting this. Sorry it has taken me this long to respond to comments. I suppose I should subscribe so that I’m aware of comments when they are posted. ^ ^

  14. Mikoto says:

    Taking a while to adjust being in a foreign country isn’t all that uncommon. I think it’s called the Crisis Stage in my Coms 10 class in College, a stage of living in a foreign country and trying to find some familiarity and clinging onto it. There are generally four stages you go through while being in a foreign country, but I can’t name them off the top of my head right now.

    • ajthefourth says:

      You’re exactly right! It’s the four stages of culture shock, and I think they are: wonder, frustration, depression, and acceptance. If I’m not mistaken, what you describe occurs in the frustration phase, when one purposefully seeks out something familiar to combat their frustration with their inability to understand or comprehend most everything in the new culture.

      The overall idea is that, eventually and with time, the new culture won’t be so new anymore. Yes, there will still be things that are different or “foreign” to you; however, with time, you’ll naturally get used to it. All things in due time, I suppose. ^ ^

  15. FoundOnWeb says:

    Europe has a long tradition of not bathing. According to the stories, Queen Isabella of Spain only bathed twice in her life, at her birth and at her marriage. French women reportedly were the same, the rest of the time using powder. Also “It’s estimated that in 1819 the 700,000 inhabitants of Paris collectively purchased only 600,000 baths.” at public bath houses.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Could you feel my shudder at that rumor? Yuck.

      The French were also well-known for turning perfumery not only into an art, but a booming business as well. If I’m not mistaken, they used to perfume clothing and sell it as such. Perfumed gloves, I think, were a huge hit among noblewomen. (It’s been a while since I studied French history, but I remember vaguely hearing something about this).

  16. Nopy says:

    One of the things that I do (and my family finds strange) is have an electric fan blowing at me while I sleep. It’s not to cool myself down since I have it on every night even during the winter. I just find it easier to sleep with it on and I like the feel of air rushing past my face (I swear it helps make cooler dreams).

    • ajthefourth says:

      Haha, I hope you write some of them down (I always find that when I have an especially good or exciting dream, I never remember it upon waking up for good unless I write them down).

      I’ve heard of others needing an electric fan. Do you also seek out that noise, or need it when you travel?

  17. Overlord-G says:

    Do not be ashamed that you also went “KYAAAAA” after Alice kissed Yune on the cheek. That also made my heart beat really fast. Yes I do understand that kissing on the cheek as a greeting or compliment was unusual in Japan back then and that also made you ponder things. Anyway that scene solidified my constant promoting of Yune and Alice (And their future forms) as lovers no matter what. NOONE could deny it no matter how hard they tried. IT…IS…”FATE!”

    • ajthefourth says:

      Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong; however, I was under the impression that not only was it unusual to kiss on the cheek as a greeting or compliment, but it was unusual to kiss or display any sort of physical affection, period, in Japan during this time. This is why Yune appears to be so flabbergasted by Alice’s reactions, that sort of intimacy was unheard of.

      I certainly promote Yune and Alice as friends, perhaps as something more were it very well described or written. ^ ^

      • Overlord-G says:

        Well, that was the point of Yune’s reaction, so you weren’t mistaken at all. I am a yuri fan like Yi-san so of course I let my imagination run wild due to Alice’s more than friendly approaches. Sure, she may just really treasure her friendship with Yune but I want to strongly believe her feelings go beyond that. Besides, it’s much more beautiful that way.
        But that’s just me. Your conclusion of them being only friends is fine as well as not many see their friendship as more than that…but I still have hope.

  18. Pingback: A Personal Ikoku Meiro no Croisée Note – Kisses and Boundaries | Listless Ink

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