January 11, 2006 part 2 – How not to use a sento

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.
Image courtesy of the good folks at Wikipedia

Image courtesy of the good folks at Wikipedia

After an epic night out in Roppongi, I woke up in my tiny coffin at the capsule hotel in Shibuya. It had not been a restful night, as people in the other capsules were snoring impressively. Also, someone’s alarm clock starting ringing just before 6:00am and continued for about half an hour. My head was spinning and I was tired from lack of sleep. UPS got me out of my capsule and we decided to get cleaned up and checked out. The capsule hotel featured a sento style bath, which UPS was eager to try out in the name of gaining cultural experience. I had never been to a sento before but I knew the general idea – clean yourself first, then sit in the shared bath.
We walked into the changing room outside the bath, still wearing the yukatas that we changed into when we checked in. There were large wicker baskets, which we assumed were for holding our yukatas and personal items. There were also two stacks of towels – large bath towels, and smaller towels that looked like long facecloths.
UPS and I removed our yukatas and underwear, wrapped the large towels around our waists, and walked into the bath area. The first thing we noticed (other than the other hungover naked men) was that nobody had the large bath towels in this area. We returned to the changing room, left the bath towels in our baskets, and confidently reentered the bathing area nude.
As we walked in, we got some very strange looks from two men who were walking out. At first I assumed that the cause of the strange look was that UPS and I were very brown and ghostly pale, respectively. However I quickly realized that everyone in the bath area were covering their naughty bits with one of the smaller towels, while we were exposing ourselves to the entire room. We quickly returned to the changing room one more time, this time equipped with privacy towels to hide our foreign members.
UPS and I proceeded to the washing stations. Each was equipped with a small bucket to sit on, a hand held shower nozzle, a mirror, and an impressive array of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. I reminded UPS that we had to be completely clean
and soap free before moving into the bath. After a few minutes of hungover scrubbing, we moved over to the tub of extremely hot water to soak.
Japanese people have a national obsession with soaking naked in extremely hot water. I’m sure it’s relaxing for some, but the experience for me was like being boiled alive. After only a few minutes I needed to get out. UPS suggested we check out the nearby sauna room. Nobody else was in the sauna when we entered. We took a seat and pretended we could understand the business report showing on the wall mounted TV. After a few minutes, a Japanese man entered the room. He took one look at the two foreigners inside, turned around, and walked right back out the door. We laughed at how unpopular we were in the bathing area.
The rest of our time at the capsule hotel was uneventful. We shaved with free individual use razors. We brushed our teeth with free individual use toothbrushes. We ate a free but unmemorable breakfast, got dressed, then checked out. I still couldn’t believe that we had just stayed in Shibuya for just over 3000 yen. My only complaints were the rampant snoring and my hangover, and only one of those could really be blamed on the hotel.
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  1. January 11, 2006 part 3 – Akihabara and farewells | Drinking in Japan

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