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Published:October 8th, 2009 21:43 EST
Cleanliness is Next to Japan (Part 3)

Cleanliness is Next to Japan (Part 3)

By Geoff Dean

 Cleanliness is next to Japan (Part 1)

Cleanliness is next to Japan (Part 2)

As promised (or threatened), depending on your perspective, I have decided to contribute another contribution on the topic of bathing in Japan. Writing a part 3 has the dual advantages of 1) hopefully, getting some people to read parts 1 and 2 again, and 2) saving time that would be lost thinking up a witty title. Still, even if you have not had the pleasure of reading parts 1 and 2, have no fear. No previous experience required.

 A discussion of bathing in Japan would not be complete without looking into public bathing (for all you out there with dirty minds, just cut that out!) From hot spring resorts to the local bath house, public bathing is ubiquitous in Japan. There is even an idiom, "hadaka no tsuki-ai", which means, literally, "a naked relationship", which points to a closeness that people can only have when they have bathed together. In order words, they have nothing to hide from each other, nothing up their sleeves. (That was lame, but, at least, I am man enough to admit it!)

 My own personal first experience with public bathing came on my second night in Japan. The leader of the English teacher training program promised that he was going to give us a uniquely Japanese good time. I pictured a sushi bar or a karaoke shop or something involving geisha. To my unpleasant surprise, he brought us to a local bath house.

 There were two doors, marked with "lords" and "maidens", written in Japanese, of course. Since I couldn`t read them, the leader was kind enough to send me off in the direction of the "lords`" changing room. The room was a fairly decrepit one, featuring a large, if faded tatami mat floor, bench in the middle and lockers on the walls. At the entrance, a young woman collected our bathing fee and kept an eye on the proceedings. In other words, I was expected to undress with an attractive woman looking on.

 I tried to reach the unreachable star of getting undressed, towels strategically located, so that nothing of value would be exposed. The people around me, I noticed, took no such precautions, undressing happily, some even humming, oblivious to the peeping Tomoko at the entrance. One man, completely naked, even went up to the bath matron to ask her for some soap. Neither blinked. It was at the moment that I made a profound decision that would affect the rest of my days in Japan. If no one cared about nudity, why should I?

 Getting this theoretical concept to become a practical reality still took some time, but soon I became a public bathing addict. Between classes at my language school, I would slip out for a bath. On the way home, I would often cop a soak in the pungent, greenish waters.

 Later in my public bathing career, I would seek out more exciting and exotic bathing experiences. I bathed in an amusement park in Beppu, southern Japan and in an apple orchard in Hirosaki, northern Japan. I bathed in a replica of the dead sea, a cave, a bath in the shape of a map of Japan, a bath with a natural waterfall, one shaped like a huge frying pan, which you could get into, put on the lid, and "stir fry" yourself, baths filled with assorted powders and colors and odors. I bathed in a public bath on the sea shore of Kyushu Isalnd, where as the tide rose, the bath became full of sea water. I "bathed " or was buried in naturally heated volcanic sand and took a bath near the peak of an active volcano. No bathing experience was too extreme, too weird, or too dangerous (OK, I made the last one up.)

  Yes, I am a bathing freak, if you wanted to know. Or if you didn`t. Next time, you consider a trip to Japan or look at a guide book, take my advice. You can visit Tokyo Tower and Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace. You can eat sushi and sukiyaki and other excellent dishes. You can drink sake to your heart`s content. But don`t forget to get dirty. It is so much fun to get clean!