September 24th, 2009 21:45 EST
Cleanliness is next to Japan (Part 2)
Cleanliness is next to Japan (Part 1)
Have you ever seen a great movie flop in the sequel? Why is that Part 2`s usually disappoint? One reason may be that we enjoyed Part 1 and it is hard for Part 2 to live up to the original. Or maybe we liked the originality of the, well, original. Originality is hard to duplicate. In my first ever part 2, there is no need for such concern since part 1 wasn`t exactly a hit anyway. I mainly wrote the part 2 since leaving it at just part 1 would be disrespectful to my readers (I hope "plural" is accurate in this case).
Having gotten the opening drival out of the way, I wish to discuss bathing. Not something you usually discuss? Nor did I, until I came to Japan. In Indiana, bathing (more likely, showering) was just something you did because you`d stink if you didn`t. Similar to shaving, brushing your teeth, peeling potatoes, and the like, it was something you did but didn`t particularly enjoy. It was not a hobby, surely not an adventure.
Bathing in Japan is so much more than just "bathing". First off, bathing in Japan normally occurs at the end of the day whereas in Indiana, one would normally shower in the morning, if there is such a thing as normal. This minor difference in custom actually changes everything. A shower in the morning serves a function, to be clean for the day. A bath at night serves a different purpose, namely, to remove the grime and stress and troubles of the day. A morning shower should wake one up. An evening bath should relax one and ready one for a good sleep.
Furthermore, in Japan, typically, one family will all share the same bath water, reheating it as necessary. When I take a bath back home again in Indiana, I always miss this reheating function. When a Hoosier bath goes cold, all you can do is get out. With a Japanese bath, you can adjust the temperature, leading people to spend much more time in the bath. And to use a variety of bath "items".
In a bath in Naptown, the only "item" I might have used was a rubber duck ("used" may be the wrong verb here!) In Japan, there are bath powders galore. I can turn my bath into a hot spring by inserting powders that have been dutifully collected from hot springs all over Japan. I can add cooling mint powders or spicy smelling powders. I can "floralize" my bath or "jungalize" it. I can make it milky and creamy or any color I like (I especially enjoy a purple bath). The inevitable result is that people tend to spend a long time in the bath and have special memories of the time spent there.
Since, a) people in Japan tend to use the same bathwater and b)people tend to spend plenty of time in the bath, the order of bathing is also important. Who gets to use the bath first, when it is freshest and properly heated? Who gets the coveted last spot, where one can take as much time as one likes without concern for those who are waiting? Who determines the bath powder, the color and/or fragrance for the evening pleasure? These issues never came up in my family in the states but here in Japan, they are a nightly topic of discussion.
The point of all of this? As if I have one....
Bathing is Japan is a rare pleasure, a pause in a land where work is much and pauses are few, a time to be alone in a country where we almost never are. But if it is a time to be alone, what about public bathing? (Fade to black as "tease line" lingers in memory. Will there be a Part 3?)