Korea’s Jjimjilbang: Baring It All in the Bathhouse (or Not)

Art, EXPAT LIFE, Korean Life Add comments

By Jen Lee

A foreigner’s first visit to the 찜질방 (jjimjilbang) usually seems to be an interesting one. For those that may be unfamiliar, a 찜질방 is pretty much a gender segregated bath house that is quite popular with Koreans. For those of us without bathtubs, it’s really nice to have an affordable option to get clean and soak in a gigantic hot tub. The only awkward side of the whole thing is the part when you’re sharing said tub with a bunch of naked strangers. If you can get over that, then you can enjoy all of the other benefits of these awesome places that often include steam rooms, saunas, massages, and even a cheap place to crash for the night.

As a Korean-American, I don’t really get too much attention from anyone whenever the clothes come off. I’ve noticed that it can sometimes be a little uncomfortable for females from different ethnic backgrounds, but they seem to get over it pretty quickly. That being said, the males I know seem to have had very different experiences whenever it came time to get naked. From what I’ve been told, Korean men can get pretty darn curious, which can lead to some awkward, inappropriate staring. I guess this isn’t really a big deal in Korean culture, but I’ve come to learn that American guys don’t really like being exposed in that way, especially when everyone in the room is watching.

I actually know a couple of guys that wear swimming trunks to avoid the unwanted attention (not that it really helps). They know it’s more than likely against the rules, but what’s a shy man in need of a bath to do?
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12 Responses to “Korea’s Jjimjilbang: Baring It All in the Bathhouse (or Not)”

  1. Doug Says:

    Been to one once and won’t be going back. Got gawked at and who wants to hang out with a bunch of naked men? Different thinking and culture. Let them have it.

  2. Craig Says:

    I’ve often wondered if this is more of an issue with Americans in Korea…I am from the UK and most of my mates in Korea were from Ireland and we never had an problem witn the public baths. We often went in groups or alone. Got the same looks (and comments sometimes!) but they always seemed good natured and sincere. The more we went to the same place the fewer comments we recieved. I had two American colleagues who point blank refused to go (even though they had no issues with group nudity after sport or working out)

  3. Paul Says:

    Get naked or get out. This is the way it’s done in Korea and if you are too much of a prude to handle it put on your swimsuit and go to the swimming pool.

  4. John from Daejeon Says:

    A few years ago, the one across the street from my apartment was busted for recording naked customers without their knowing and posting the videos online on porn sites. Today, it is a paved over parking lot, but the memories still linger in our neighborhood.

  5. Shyun Says:

    Paul, are you Korean or just some idiot who wants to tell people what to do. Anyone can go to a sauna–you don’t have to go naked. I’ve seen Korean women wearing undergarments in the pools. Koreans don’t care if you wear shorts, shirts, a bikini, whatever. Get a clue.

  6. Mike Says:

    I still don’t get the concept just like I never understood the group showers in my sports days. Sorry but why would I want to hang it out with a bunch of guys unless, well, I like guys. Men that enjoy and look forward to such situations, in my view, just ain’t right. If it’s a Korean thing, then so be it.

  7. Craig Says:

    I think your being a bit black and white there Mike. I enjoy eating Pasta Carbonara, but although I don’t really mind making it I don’t enjoy the process much either. Can’t eat it without making it though!

    Likewise I enjoy relaxing in the various types of baths, pools and steam rooms in the Jjimjilbang. I wouldn’t say I ‘enjoy and look forward’ to being naked anymore than I enjoy making dinner but it is a necessary element in taking part.

    Maybe I’m “just not right” (sic)

  8. ROK Drop Weekly Linklets – April 15, 2012 | ROK Drop Says:

    [...] Why foreign men are not big fans of jjimjilbangs. [...]

  9. tbonetylr Says:

    A Korean man once busted in on me while I was taking a shower at home just to have a look. I had met him playing tennis at an apartment complex(club) along with many other Korean men and we were planning to go out on the town. He opened the bathroom door, his eyes gazing at my crotch, I told him to get the hell out of my house. Never saw him again, or played tennis at that place again.

  10. Burt Says:

    I don’t see what the fuss is about. The way I see it, if my presence makes any of the xenophobic gawkers feel uncomfortable, it’s one more reason to return.

  11. ROK Drop Weekly Linklets – April 15, 2012 | ROK Drop | Male Celebrities Says:

    [...] Why foreign men are not big fans of jjimjilbangs. [...]

  12. Lance Says:

    Stay away from Korean saunas unless you are gay. Korean men stare at you nonstop and some try to touch you-everywhere.

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