The Big Bath House
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The Big Bath House
Soak it up, sink right in.
Into the tub.
The steaming tub
in the big bath house.
You’ll all dip your bodies,
your newly sprouting,
your saggy, shapely,
your cozy, creased,
When a little girl visits her Baachan (Grandmother) in Japan, she meets up with all of her aunts and cousins, and they make a trip to a local bath house. Wearing traditional wooden sandals and light yukatas (bathrobes), the women gather with other family members and friends at the bath house, showing readers that this is a big communal event. The beautiful watercolour illustrations depict the bath house to be a large, open area surrounded by nature. There are varying sizes of tubs and sinks, all surrounded by traditional Japanese architecture. It looks like a peaceful and calming atmosphere.
Most notably, all the girls and women in the bath house are naked. Before entering the big bathtub, everyone takes an opportunity to get nice and soapy. The women help scrub each others backs, and Baachan washes the little girl’s hair. The other children have some fun with the bubbles. When everyone one is ready, they all slip into a large, warm bath to rinse off and relax. After the bath, the women take their time to dry off while the children enjoy sweet shaved ice chips as they wait. When leaving the bath house, the air is cool and the sun has set, indicating that a trip to the bath house is an all-day event. The day is filled with laughter and the love of family, and it is a ritual that brings a community together.
Overall, this story drives home two main concepts: the celebration of all body types and the importance of family. In North America, the portrayal of naked bodies is often taboo. But in other cultures, such as Japan, bodies are honoured and openly accepted no matter what they look like. Most importantly, it is the acceptance of one’s own body image that is taught from a young age. Having a close connection with friends and family can help with that acceptance.
Maclear has written a wonderful book that all ages can enjoy and take away from. It presents a great opportunity to talk about body image with children and to help them understand that all bodies are beautiful. The Big Bath House offers another look into a different culture, and how family and traditions can overcome distance and difference in language.
Julia Pitre is a Children’s Librarian with London Public Library in London, Ontario.