Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summer Rerun: The Yakuza and the Wimp

In the previous post, I had a little fun at the expense of an innocent passerby--I do not assign any ulterior motive to his actions. Well, in the interest of fairness and openness, I should reveal that I too have had my own embarrassing moments when I did not realize with whom I was speaking.

A few years ago, I wrote about bathing at onsen, Japanese hot springs, and SammyStorm left a comment about men in tatoos, which led to the following, a slightly edited excerpt of a post from April 2004.

SammyStorm: The first time I went to a sento, I saw a guy with tattoos all over his body, and you know what that means. But for some reason I wasn't really embarassed about being naked, but as you said, I couldn't get used to the really HOT water.

O-man: Yeah, the water can be REALLY hot. But body tattoo, yeah, that's scary. Tattoos equal yakuza... But I was hoping for someone to make this exact comment... the perfect segue.

Around 1992, when I was working at a thinktank in Tokyo, our section went to an onsen (hot spring) for our annual summer retreat. I love Japanese companies. They really know how to relieve stress. Here, in the States, a retreat by a company usually involves seminars on how to make the company better. Well, at this retreat, all we did was drink, eat and drink more to get drunk. I'd like to say we debauched, but we were a rather saintly group...

On our way home, our director told us there was one more onsen he wanted to go to. It was further in the mountains and we had to backtrack a bit, but he insisted it was a great place... and who were we to go against our boss? So we went to this little hole-in-the-wall of an onsen. It wasn't dirty, but it was old and--for lack of a better word--rustic.

Well, as our boss had promised, it was a nice onsen. Hot, intimate and comfy. Back then, I wore glasses instead of contacts and in the onsen, they would fog up, so I usually left my glasses in my clothing basket and entered the bathing area with only a strategically positioned tenugui--the long cotton Japanese hand towel--and a significantly diminished visual acuity.

So I'm chatting with a colleague in the small bathing area when I smell cigarette smoke. Now I'm no prude, and at the time I too smoked as well. But there is a time and place for everything, so I was rather pissed that someone would be ruining my enjoyment of the onsen with tobacco. I squinted my eyes and look around and saw a skinny guy with a dark towel over his shoulder sitting at the edge of the bathing pool taking long deliberate drags on his cigarettes.

I decided that I should tell him nicely but firmly that there's a sign that says "No Smoking" and that he's screwing it up for everybody else.

So I get up, walk over and sit myself right next to him, dangling my feet in the hot water like him. I turn to him as nonchalantly as possible and was about to speak my mind when I noticed that it wasn't a towel hanging over his shoulder. In fact, it wasn't any kind of cloth at all. It was a tattoo. *Gulp*

おい、何だ "Yeah? Whaddya want?" he asked in an annoyed tone.

いい湯ですね "Nice bath, isn't it," I managed in a voice about an octive higher than usual.

I got up, walked back to my friend, and enjoyed the rest of my bath, relieved in the thought that I would go home with nothing injured but my pride.

1 comment:

Tita said...

haha! I would've probably done the same thing.