Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Random Thoughts

Update:

Ups to zhuzhu for a solid heads up...

Last nights dream...

Zettonv was talking about a weird dream he had fighting some martial art with a broken arm. How does he manage to remember his dreams? I always forget most of mine. Is this an age thing? Anyway, last night--perhaps I should say this morning... um, I mean this afternoon... I woke up with a jolt after receiving a cryptic message on the blackboard from a student on the last day of class: Here's my email, p******@t******.com, just in case you get a dvrc"... Hmmm....

On toilets--No pun intended...

Yesterday's post was an old one, and I was rather surprised when some of you said that you remember reading something that was almost 10 months ago. Indeed, it was less than a month since I had started Xanga, and I didn't think anyone was reading my site at that point. Again, I am, as always, flattered. Anyway, here's another aspect of Japan...

Onsen...

For those of you unfamiliar with onsen, they are natural hot springs that often have therapeutic value. But this is probably true of most hot springs around the world. What distinguishes Japan from the West is not the "what" but the "how". One important aspect of Japanese onsen, of which the uninitiated should be aware, is public nudity. In many spas in the US, men and women wear bathing suits when entering a hot spring bath, hot tub, or jaccuzzi; but if you wore one in Japan, you would face ejection. This is often catches Americans off-guard, because bathing in Japan is a community activity. Whether it is a public bath (sento) or onsen, everyone bathes with strangers in their birthday suits. Of course, public bathing is commonly separated between male and female, but when I was younger I remember that distinction was different: Female bathing and mixed bathing, which meant that both male and female guests could bathe. The first time I went to an onsen and learned what kon'yoku (mixed bathing) meant, my eyes darted to the entrance everytime I heard the rattle of the sliding door. My cousin, more than slightly amused, told me to chill: If you're expecting a woman to come in, forget it. You'll only see the occasional baachan (grandma) if the women's side is too crowded or too noisy. The excitement of anticipation made for a great let down... hehehehe.

My first experience was during the winter of 1974 in Fukushima. It was snowing outside, which made for an even more memorable experience. I was, to say the least, very shy at first. Being American, I was not used to getting naked in front of strangers. (Duh!) I was with my cousin and he showed me the routine: In our room, we changed our clothes wearing a yukata, and took a tenugui--the small Japanese hand towel--with us to the men's changing room. We proceeded to disrobe, tossing our clothes into one of the many baskets lined up on a shelf. No lockers, no guard, not even a basket number. Just put it in and remember where you put it. When we went inside the bathing area, I was relieved to find that there were no other patrons, but I was shocked to see that the room was spacious with a large bath, like a small indoor swimming pool. The outer wall was a large window to the outside where it was snowing heavily. It was quite a juxtaposition: I was warm in this steam-filled room, but my eyes saw a cold wintry scene.

Against the inner walls was a row of faucets, showerheads, plastic wash bowls and short stools. We were supposed to wash ourselves first, and then and only then could we enter the large hot spring bath. Well I washed myself thoroughly, and with the tenugui covering my body strategically, I tried to enter the bath.

It was hot...

Okay, you might think: Doh! Its a hot spring. What did you expect? Well, while I have never been in a hot spring in the US, I have to believe that this was hotter than most people in the West would be accustomed to. I inched myself into the water. My toes felt like they were burning, but soon got used to the heat. I continued to lower myself into the water, happy that after the initial shock by my toes, my legs had no problems. But then came my butt. When I tried to settle into the bath, bing! I shot up, grabbing my ass. Man! Did someone just pressed a hot iron to my butt. Whew! It was hot. But after a few tentative dunks, I finally acclimated to the scalding water, and finally sat down...

Woah... Even though it was hot, it was pretty relaxing. My cousin was sorta lying down on the other end of the pool/bath with his eyes closed. After absorbing as much heat as I could, I got out of the bath and went to the window. I touched and it was cold to the touch. My cousin urged me to open one of the small side windows. When I did, in burst a thin gust of winter air. But to my great surprise, it didnt' seem the least bit cold. My body was so warm from the soaking that it could do nothing to me. I felt impervious to the cold... for about five minutes, when it started getting cold again. I jumped back into the bath, this time more easily adjusting to the heat. Like my cousin, I lied down and closed my eyes. For some reason, I had images of Japanese monkeys...

Anyway, this experience opened my eyes to the wonders of hot springs and I was hooked. I loved going to onsen whenever I could, and when I go to Japan, I make it a point to visit one.

So how did you feel when you first bathed in Japan in a public place? Embarrassed? Shy? Ahem, excited? Or if you've never been, why haven't you or--for those of you who have never been to Japan--how do you think you'd feel?

1 comment:

Amanda said...

hehehe I liked my first experience too. although, as you so aptly described, the water was HOT. but think of this. its a bit harder to strategically maneuver the tenugui if you're a woman with more to cover...