Public Nudity and the Korean Bath House

22 Sep
Can you find it?

You will not be long looking for a jimjilbang in Seoul if you are not picky. They can be found all over the city.

Nudity is a funny thing.  I would describe myself as a liberal.  In university I became comfortable changing in the changing room at the gym.  I would wrap myself in a towel on my way to my locker from the shower rather than walking around completely naked, but I was still liberal enough to be walking around in my towel.  I learned to adopt of new definition of liberal when it came to changing rooms and nudity in South Korea.  The idea of nudity is just different.

Before I moved to South Korea I read about jimjilbangs.  They are Korean bath houses where it is ok to walk around naked dipping in and out of pools of different temperatures.  They are usually open 24 hours and you can stay the night, sleeping on a heated wooden floor in a communal sleeping area.  It is a cheap hotel alternative (6000-10,000 won a night, less than $10 CAD).

I had heard a few people talk about them and tell me I should try it.  I thought about it, but could probably go without the experience.  Then one night, after some soju and a few beers a friend of mine told me that it would be a fun way to end the night.  Due to the effects of alcohol my inhibitions went to the wind.  Why not?  It is on the way home, it’s only $10, it is really cold outside and I have no bathtub at home to warm up in after a cold night.  Might as well.

We chatted on the way to the jimjilbang about how in about 10 minutes it was probably going to get super awkward because we were going to have to get completely naked in the same room.  Also, there would be other naked strangers.  She had done it once before and said that it was a fun time and it was less awkward than you would think, however.

get naked

While in Korea, just look for this red symbol. Enter the building and you will find a jimjilbang somewhere inside!

She showed me the jimjilbang sign, like the bat signal.  It looked like a bowl of hot soup.  You can find them all over the country, just look for the sign and you know that there will be a jimilbang in the building. We chose a lesser visited one that was close to a subway station, it was in the basement of a large building. It was not like Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan, it was small and dark.

We go inside, pay $10 at the desk.  We are given pink pajamas, a shirt and shorts.  We leave our shoes at a locker near the front then we move into the female section of the jimjilbang.  We move back to the lockers to remove our clothes and get into our uniforms.  This was the first naked obstacle.  It was no big deal, I change in front of people at the gym, it’s nothing.  It was nothing, did not bother me in the slightest.

Next mission, we go to the counter to buy beer.  It’s 3am, we are in a Korean bathhouse, may as well. We buy our beer then head to the hot tub area.  This is the next obstacle.  Taking off my pink uniform and just walking around.

The staff are there in matching lacy brassiere and panties, must be their uniform.  They are women around the age of fifty from what I could tell.  They give massages and clean the pools and tubs. The fact that they come to work and put on that uniform made me instantly relax.  I wanted to get into the mindset of: this is normal.

I slipped off the top and shorts, folded them and placed them on a metal rack. No problem.  I am honestly surprised at how fine I was with this.  My friend and I chose a hot tub, hopped in and cracked our beers.

Another favourite thing to add to my list of things to do:  Drinking beer in a Korean jimjilbang.  It was so warm and relaxing.  I had not been in a bathtub in about a year, not since I left Canada. This was not exactly the same, but it was comfortable.

There were various tubs with different temperatures, most were hot, others were warm, one was very cold.  Some had things like salts, or aloe vera in them, one of them had jets.  There was a hot room and a cold room to sit inside.  When you get bored with one tub, just climb out and walk to another.

This is not something I would do in Canada.  I am so happy that I did experience it in Korea.  It was a wonderful way to relax and warm up during the cold winters here.  Also, it opened my eyes to the way I perceived nudity and how it was directly shaped by where I grew up.  I think that this experience has helped me to become more comfortable with my own body, as well as others.

A few weeks after this adventure I joined a gym in Korea.  In the change room you can see the same attitude towards nudity that is evident in the jimjilbangs.  It is nothing, it just is.  I was not surprised when a woman struck up a conversation in the changing room while she was wearing absolutely nothing. My perception of nudity had changed and I was growing, I was proud.  Then I learned that blow drying your pubes with a communal hair dryer is a common practice.  Baby steps.


Dragon Hill Spa is very famous in Korea and popular among foreigners.  There is much more than just hot tubs here.




2 Responses to “Public Nudity and the Korean Bath House”

  1. sandradan1 December 1, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    This made me smile, how other cultures can surprise us! Thanks for finding and following my Spanish blog. SD

    • jackofalltrips December 1, 2013 at 11:50 am #

      Thanks for reading! I was happy to stumble upon your blog today, I have recently begun studying Spanish. It is nice to have something interesting to read that gives me tips.

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