Do You Want to Discover the Secrets ofJapanese Women Bathing?
Marijn Kruijff
10 min

Do You Want to Discover the Secrets ofJapanese Women Bathing?

10 min

Japenese Women bathing

While the Japanese people of the 19th Century bathed frequently, most did not have baths in their own homes and instead used public bathhouses (sento), where everyone was exposed. By going to the same bath-house at the same time, a person could see naked anyone he or she wished to. Although mixed bath-houses were made illegal in 1791, they continued to exist elsewhere in Japan for many years (and still have survived to this day).

Let’s take a look at some examples of shunga art (many by Kunisada) featuring Japanse women bathing:


In this striking scene (Fig.1.) a man reaches out from the interior background to draw the woman inside with him. The viewer is also brought into the act as they spy not only upon the encounter between the man and the woman, but also upon several more women in a third room that opens to the right.

A look in various bathhouse rooms with japanese women bathing

Fig.1. ‘Various bathhouse rooms‘ (c.1827) from the series ‘The Myth of the Bathhouse (Sento shinwa)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada


As long as the sense of domestic space is expanded even further to the outside world through the window on the left, where a harbor is visible. Various layers of space connect simultaneously each impinging upon the next with an ever-decreasing degree of privacy.

A woman is cleaning her vagina after taking a bath. Another is cleaning her armpit.

Fig.2. ‘Two Japanese women bathing‘ (c. 1829) from the series ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter: ‘Prospects for the Four Seasons (Shunka shuto shiki no nagame)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)

Lesbian Affair

A superb scene from the acclaimed ‘Four Seasons-series. In a bathhouse we see two females executing their esoteric activities. The squatting woman holds a furoshiki (small bag) including soap between her teeth. She is multitasking, combining doing her laundry while at the same time cleaning her private parts. The curved feet of her standing friend is in shunga an indication of sexual excitement. So this could very well be a lesbian affair.”

A bathhouse scenes with a shivering retarded man being washed.

Fig.3. ‘Shivering retarded man‘ (c.1827) from the series: ‘The Myth of the Bathhouse (Sento shinwa)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada

Secret World of a Bathhouse

Two other scenes in the form of an intriguing fold-out piece that begins with an entertaining image (Fig.3) portraying a trembling male imbecile sitting on a wooden bucket while being taken care of by an aristocratic family. When the four tabs are flipped one enters the “secret” world of a bathhouse (Fig.4.).

A crowded bathhouse with multiple Japanese women and their offspring bathing.

Fig.4. ‘Japanese women and their offspring bathing‘ (c.1827) from the series: ‘The Myth of the Bathhouse (Sento shinwa)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada. Click the image for enlargement!


Below you can find some extra bathhouse designs by the great ukiyo-e masters Koryusai and Kiyonaga. You can also examine some photographs:

A picture of a mixed public bath by Koryusai

Fig.5. ‘Mixed public bath‘ (c.1770s) by Isoda Koryusai (1735-1790)

A crowded interior of a bathhouse with in the centre a woman who is cleaning her baby by Kiyonaga

Fig.6. Vertical oban diptych of an ‘Interior of a bathhouse‘ (1787) by Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815). Collection Museum of Fine Arts of Boston.

Edgar Degas

The above diptych (Fig.6.) has an interesting owner history because it was formerly the property of Edgar Degas. This is the second state, with a slight alteration in the figure of the standing woman on the right sheet, to make her pose more prudent. An impression of the first state is in the Musee Guimet, Paris. Recently a third impression was discovered which is housed in the Kawasaki Isago no Sato Museum. Probably the most reproduced bathhouse design.

Black and white photograph of Japanese women bathing.

Fig.7. ‘Public bath‘ (1985) by Koichi Uchimura

Ancient colored photograph of a staged scene featuring a bath.

Fig.8. Ancient colored photograph of a staged scene featuring a ‘Public Bath‘ (c.1880s)

The above photograph (Fig.8.) is a staged scene in a studio in which they copied a brothel/bathhouse. The models are not courtesans but Yaro. The slip like skirt was the only undergarment worn by women. In a real bathhouse they would be nude if they were regular bathers.

Below you can find more bathhouse secrets:

A couple is having sex at the public bath.

Fig.9. ‘Couple at the public bath‘ (c.1854) by Utagawa Yoshinobu (act.1854-60)

A picture of two married couples visiting a bathhouse.

Fig.10. ‘Two married couples in a bathhouse‘ (c.1830s) by Utagawa Kunisada

A couple is washing and copulating in the bathhouse.

Fig.11. ‘Washing and copulating in the bathhouse‘ (c.1880) by unknown Meiji artist

A wealthy couple is making love in their own bath.

Fig.12. ‘A wealthy couple is making love in their own bath‘ (c.1840) by Utagawa Kunisada

Sensual woman in bathrobe with a glimp of her vagina.

Fig.13. ‘Sensual woman in bathrobe‘ (c.1838) from the series ‘Shunshoku hana no shizuku (Erotic Drops of Flower Petals)‘ by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848)

Another woman in a bathrope showing a part of her vagina.

Fig.14. Another impression of the design in Fig.12 (look for the differences!)

Orgasmic couple in the bathhouse.

Fig.15. ‘Orgasmic couple in the bathhouse‘ (c.1820s) by Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867)

Just After Bath

Fig.13 and 14 depict a serene and at the same time sensual image of a young woman, who just finished taking a bath, looking outside of the window. She clearly enjoys this moment and the artist shows her sensuality by subtly exposing some of her private parts (Keisai Eisen was a master at this). Striking is that the designs each portray the woman at a different time of the day.

A couple is getting intimate inside a bathtub.

Fig.16. Koban-sized shungaIntimate couple in a bathtub’ (c.1770s) by Isoda Koryusai (1735-1790)

A woman is taken from behind against a bathtub.

Fig.17 ‘Intimate couple near a bathtub’ (c.1840) by a member of the Utagawa school

A bathing geisha is observed by a mesmerized servant.

Fig.18. ‘Bathing geisha observed by a mesmerized servant‘ (c.1830) by a member of the Utagawa school

Two women who have finished bathing behold a couple making out in a bath.

Fig.19. ‘Bathhouse‘ (c,1840) from a series inspired by Hiroshige’s ‘Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido‘ by an unknown member of the Utagawa school

Two couples making love with one couple in the bathing area.

Fig.20. ‘Two couples making love with one couple in the bathing area‘ (c.1850) by a member of the Utagawa school

A male lover is preparing for penetration from the rear in the laundry room

Fig.21. ‘Amorous couple in the laundry-room‘ (c.1780s) by Katsukawa Shuncho

A kissing couple is getting ready to make love after bathing,

Fig.22. ‘Kissing couple‘ (c.1780s) by Katsukawa Shuncho

Bathing woman peeking at the intimate silhouettes inside the house.

Fig.23. ‘Bathing woman peeking at the intimate silhouettes inside the house‘ (early 1910-20) by unknown Japanese artist

A woman is startled by a couple who is making love at the waterfalls.

Fig.24. ‘Love-making at the waterfalls‘ (c.1854) from the series ‘Murasaki no ippon‘ by Koikawa Shozan

Females in a bathhouse washing themselves.

Fig.25. ‘Females in the bathhouse‘ (c.1830) attributed to Kunisada

An intimate couple in front of a bathtub.

Fig.26. ‘Intimate couple in front of a bathtub‘ (c.1830) attributed to Keisai Eisen

Three nude Japanese women in the bathhouse.

Fig.27. ‘Three nude Japanese women in the bathhouse‘ (c.1820s) attributed to Utagawa Toyokuni (Photo by Tuyashun)

Threefold picture with women bathing in a hot springs. One has brought her baby.

Fig.28. ‘Women Bathing at a Hot Springs‘ by Toyohara Chikanobu

Deluxe Onsen

This amazing triptych design by Chikanobu (Fig.27) depicts six beauties bathing at a deluxe onsen (a Japanese hot spring). The women at left are absorbed in a deep tub, a mother nurtures her child, holding it to her chest, while another female drenches a towel in the water. The right panel shows a woman who dresses after bathing. She pulls a wrap around her as her companion sits near a small wooden tub. Behind them, a beauty adjusts her hair while looking in a large mirror. The veranda overlooks a beautiful garden framed by blossoming cherry trees. A lovely scene, beautifully drawn with fine line work and soft shading in the lake and sky.

An amorous encounter in the bathhouse.

Fig.29. ‘Amorous encounter in the bathhouse‘ (c.1940) by an unknown Showa era artist

girl in the bathhouse

Fig.30. ‘Bathing girl encountering a dwarf falling from a cloud‘ (c.1900) by an unknown Meiji artist

A male peeking through a heater at Japanese women bathing

Fig.31. ‘An aroused male peeking through a heater at Japanese women bathing‘ (c.1820s) attributed to Utagawa Kunisada

Japanese women bathing: a man goes berserk in the bathhouse

Fig.32. ‘The bathhouse attendant is going berserk and shouts: “I saw such a beautiful thing” ‘ (c.1900) by an unknown Meiji artist

You can find more Japanese women bathing in the following video:

Thrilling Bathhouse Scenes

The above bathhouse scenes are available in our gallery. For inquiries or questions you can contact us HERE 

You can find a famous bathhouse design by Koryusai with a prudent and an uncensored version when you click HERE!