Aaaahhhh, the Japanese bath. "Big deal!", you say? "I take a nice, hot shower every day."? Phhppt! You just haven't taken a bath until you've experienced the sybaritic pleasure of a Japanese bath.
Over the New Year's holidays, my family went with their cousins to the nearby bathhouse for a soak. This isn't the neighborhood bathhouse of Kurosawa movies, mind you, or the bathhouse from Nintendo's Street Fighter, but a huge hunking place, with 6 different baths, TVs behind plexy inside fake rocks, even giant amphora the kids can climb into together and pretend to be olives. Oh, yeah, and parking for 500 cars. There are also sand baths, Korean massage (the first time the lady masseuse meandered through the locker room while I and 30 others were butt-naked kinda freaked me out!) and a restaurant. With beer.
So, anyways, you pay your dime (9 bucks, actually), then drop off your shoes and head upstairs to the locker rooms. Strip and shove your stuff into lockers and go to the bathing area. Now, the key to the baths is that you sit down on a little stool (not that kind of stool, Herr Doktor) and wash yourself thoroughly, making sure to rinse off completely, before heading to the baths to soak until your head spins. Remember this, because it really ticks off the Japanese when furriners don't do it right, and they will watch you like a hawk to make sure you do. [Which is why it rags me so-o-o-o much when many Japanese men will go straight to the bath first, and soak their sweaty, poopy behinds before cleaning off and taking a longer soak.]
Mmmm-hmmmm, anyways... Then you head to the baths and hot-water heaven! Imagine hot tubs the size of your living room at a toasty 105 degrees. Some have high iron content and look like mud (God, I hope that's the iron). Others may have high sodium content, and are supposed to be good for your skin (just don't stay in too long, or even your butt will look like a prune). Another one has seats with back panels that feed small electrical currents into your back. This doesn't strike me as a good idea, electrical shocks in hot water. "Clear!" Zapp! Nope, no thanks. The place we go even has a lying bath ("I'll respect you in the morning") - or is it a laying bath (sounds like a chicken coop)? - which is an even 4" deep. Yeah, nothing like seeing a bunch of naked fellas lying flat on their backs in 4" of water... I wanna go to the ladies' baths... Or maybe not.
Oh, and did I mention that most of the baths are outside? I soaked in the big bath inside, displacing an unfortunate amount of water, I'm afraid, then headed outside. On New Year's Eve. At first, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't see clearly, then I realized that my whole body was steaming like crab fresh out of the cooking pot (which we ate for dinner that night - yummy!). Watching guys walk around was pretty cool, they all had a cape of steam following them around like their very own Casper. And all the baths were full. I'm talking about 15-20 guys shoulder-to-shoulder around the outside bench, with 5 or 10 rugrats swimming around the middle like miniature Jaws, and your dingle is the bait. Standing there waiting gets cold, quickly.
Oh, yeah, that reminds me. Now I understand why my buddy always rolled his eyes when we teased him about the black-man stereotype. J-men will constantly check out my junk, it drives me nuts. Feels like some of those bad comedies we watched as kids. You know, the "Dude, if you turn any further to look, you're gonna piss on my shoes!" kind of thing.
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