Posts Tagged Public bath

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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Return to Japan 2013: July 9 – Getting Naked with Strangers

My in laws like to make plans for us when we come back to visit. The plan for the day was to go to Numazu port to see the View-o tsunami gate, go to a historical agriculture museum, then go to a public bath and get naked with strangers.

Numazu is a port city with a large fishing industry. View-o is a gate built at the entrance to the Numazu port area. In the event of a tsunami, the gate will lower to protect the port area and its businesses. You can ride an elevator to the top and get some fantastic pictures of the port area, Izu and Mt. Fuji. Due to the incredible heat, everything was hazy and Fuji was not visible.

The port area has narrow streets full of fish shops and restaurants. Himono, sun dried fish, can be seen (and occasionally smelled) all around the area. We ate lunch in a small restaurant that we chose based on the lunch special. They offered a dish called “Numazu Don” which had 2 kinds of fish and tiny shrimp on top of rice. Numazu Don is served with miso soup. I ordered deep fried tiny shrimp with miso sauce over rice, served with miso soup and assorted Japanese pickles. We stuffed ourselves for about ¥1000 per person. For anyone who says eating in Japan is too expensive – you are eating in the wrong places.

We were all moving very slowly in the heat and after the massive lunch, so we skipped the museum and went directly to the public baths. At this point I started getting a bit nervous. I had been to a small public bath before at a Capsule Hotel in Tokyo, and an Onsen at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) so I was familiar with the concept and the rules. However, I had never been to a big neighbourhood public bath before. In the time since living in Japan, my Japanese had gotten quite rusty. Also, The Wife, who is fluently bilingual, would be in the women’s section while I would be with my father in law who speaks no English and about 20 other naked Japanese guys.

When I am nervous or stressed out, my typical defense mechanism is to make jokes. When The Wife handed me the small privacy towel I told her in Japanese that she had made a mistake. She asked why, and I told her the towel was much too big.

I now present Barniferous’s 10 Easy Steps to being a Gaijin men using a public bath in Japan:

  1. Go into the locker area, find an empty locker and stash everything except your privacy towel. Yes, everything. You will end up with a small towel in front of your naughty bits and your pasty white butt will be fully exposed (substitute other butt colours as appropriate for you).
  2. Wish you had a beer or three first.
  3. Follow your naked 73 year old father in law into the washing area. Sit on the bucket and thoroughly wash yourself everywhere. You are about to sit in hot water with other naked dudes, so make sure you are clean and not soapy.
  4. Choose a nice indoor bath to start. Put your privacy towel on your head and slowly lower yourself into the 40 degree water. At this point you will realize how many nerve endings you have in your nether regions and how sensitive they are to heat. Understand how a boiled lobster feels.
  5. Don’t get confused – just because you are seeing a room full of Wangs does not mean you are suddenly in China.
  6. Move to the outdoor tub and then consider the wisdom of your decision to sit in very hot water while it is very hot outside. Awkwardly talk to your father in law until you run out of Japanese.
  7. When you start to feel faint, and you will, go to the cold water station and pour icy cold water on your feet. Resist the urge to scream like a girl.
  8. Sit in one more tub of incredibly hot water, because you didn’t travel half way around the world to only sit in two tubs of incredibly hot water. Try to ignore the fact that you are the only non-Japanese person in the place. Also try to ignore the many, many penises.
  9. After cooking yourself for a sufficient time, go to the washing area and wash yourself again.
  10. Return to the locker, get dressed, then go have a nice cold beer, you earned it. Nurse the beer because your wife and mother in law will be another hour.

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