This is art.  Women aren’t buying this book to get excited over glimpses of male genitalia. And both men and women are buying it. “SENTO”, a book of photography put together by renown photographer Yoshinaga Masayuki, has not gone without a certain amount of sensational reaction due to its subject matter, stark naked men. The question seems to be, how much is it OK to show?

Sento, or public bath houses, are as much a part of Japanese culture as chopsticks.  Although numbers of traditional sento are fading, onsens (hot springs) and spacious bath houses that include saunas, jet baths, and mineral-infused healthy bath waters still make for thriving businesses.  These days it is considered therapeutic to spend time relaxing at a bath house, where services in the way of shiatsu, massage, and skin care are also available.

It is said that famous warriors in fuedal times did not take baths.  That is because they couldn’t allow themselves to be that vulnerable to their enemies.  Taking into consideration that people are most vulnerable when they are naked also means that you can tell a lot about someone at a bath house— that’s what the photos in SENTO are all about.

SENTO, since its release last October by the publishing company Kirara, has generated a lot of attention.  A spokesperson for Kirara said that curiosity drives the interest in this photo book.  Even if you have never been to World Heritage Sites or the uncharted jungles of far away lands, the knowledge of their  existence piques your curiosity enough to look at them in pictures.  This book creates interest in the same way. Women know what happens on the other side of the bath house, but they’ve never seen it.

The pictures include men lathering up showering off and relaxing in hot water up to their chins as well as underwater shots with water proof cameras. Of course genitalia is bound to be exposed, but when it comes down to it, there is nothing erotic about this photo book.  “There is no indecency and none is intended. Men’s genitals are naturally visible when naked”, says the spokesperson from Kirara.

This book was not created to be a be a revolution in nakedness.  It simply shows men relaxing in a public bath rejuvenating themselves, a slice of everyday life.  These photos were shot 20 years ago in Osaka, and are what triggered Mr. Yoshinaga’s career as a photographer.

Up until now there have been a number of publishing companies who showed interest in publishing these photos.  But every one of them stipulated the condition of using mosaic over the genitalia.  Mr. Yoshinaga did not want his creation defamed in such a way.  Therefore it took 20 years for Kirara to finally come along and agree to publish it as it is.

Having to wait twenty years has paid off as this book was nominated for the International Photo Book Awards this April in France.  These awards nominate only about 30 photo books from around the world.  This year there were two nominations from Japan.

Where did the idea of taking a photo shoot in a sento come from?  Mr. Yoshinaga shared that in his younger wilder days, the sento was a place he and his friends gathered at the end of each day. “It was a place full of good memories so that I wanted to preserve it in a photo shoot resulting in this photo book.”

Recently there are people who like to shoot the old-fashioned chimneys of the traditional sento, (most of these become memorial shots before the place closes) along with their old-fashioned entrances where when you slide open the door the old woman sits high on her throne, taking your money as you enter.  Now, there is a photographer who shoots the inside of a sento.  The inside of a sento is more personable!

You may be wondering where you can get a hold of a copy.  Initially you could only find it at a handful of bookshops in Tokyo, but now it can also be found at the Tsutayas in Daikanyama and Roppongi.  Of course, you can order it off the website here.

Finally the Kirara representative  commented, “Buyers of this photo book include both men and women, and of course artists.  During the 70’s, there were fewer regulations and artists were free to make the art work they liked, now artists are not as free to do as they like.  But it is the artist who opposes regulation and does his own thing regardless of what anyone says.”

This is a work of art that relishes the making of it.  It is a photo collection which represents the art of Japan.

Source: Excite Bit News

These decorative tenugui, or faceclothes, are used in sento and make up the cover of this photo book.

An add for chinese herb medicine on the mirror

■ Some sample color photos (Pictures via STUDIO VOICE)