Me: I went to an onsen the other week.

Japan: Really? What did you think?

Me: It was nice. Very nice.

Japan: Good. I think everybody enjoys a communal bath with old people in searing hot volcanic mineral rich water amongst tectonically active mountain ranges don’t they?

Me: It might be best not to word it like that in your tourist information. Anyway, i have a few questions.

Japan: When don’t you?

Me: Is there a particular reason why it’s communal? It doesn’t really fit with your conservative stereotype.

Japan: Well, it’s old and traditional. Plus, it’s volcanically heated water so they have to be on the large size. You can’t really expect to go in one at a time can you? And anyway, it’s not really communal. There’s a male and female section. Don’t confuse me for one of those weird liberal Scandinavians.

Me: OK. People seem to like striking up conversations in the onsen too.

Japan: Yeah, why not?

Me: That seems a little odd.

Japan: Why?

Me: Well, on the train out of the city nobody was talking to each other. When i had lunch nobody said hello. When i went to the onsen changing room nobody really acknowledged my existence. I got cleaned and scrubbed at the nice sit-down showers you have and the silence continued. It wasn’t until i plopped my naked self down into a massive hot bath that an exchange of nods led quite quickly into a conversation with a wrinkly old man about his honeymoon in New York decades before and his advice on what i should eat for dinner.

Japan: There are two places where it’s ok to talk to strangers.

Me: Where?

Japan: When hiking halfway up a mountain and when naked in a volcanic bath.

Me: Why?

Japan: I don’t know. People are weird? Cities are impersonal? Infrastructure evolves faster than brains?

Me: And you’re not allowed into the onsen if you have tattoos, right?

Japan: That’s right.

Me: Why?

Japan: Because only criminals have tattoos. The Yakuza always have them. Dangerous, dangerous people.

Me: Hmm. And how do you make sure that tattooed people don’t enter?

Japan: Well, you put up a sign saying “No tattoos”. Or you just ask people.

Me: You just ask? And then what? They say, “no”?

Japan: Erm, yeah.

Me: That’s not really a full proof way of finding tattooed dangerous, dangerous people is it?

Japan: Well, no, but what can i do? I can’t strip people naked in the lobby and inspect every inch of skin can i?

Me: I guess that would make things a little less relaxing. Another thing?

Japan: Yeah?

Me: While i was sat in this bath, randomly chatting nakedly to old men about the success of the London Olympics, an old woman came into this big shower bath room place that was filled with naked men and started cleaning stuff up.

Japan: OK…and?

Me: Well, is that normal?

Japan: Normal? Old women cleaning? Yeah, of course it’s normal. That’s what old women do. They seem to love it. It’s one of their major plus points and a big reason why i’m so neat and tidy. I’ve got loads of old women.

Me: So many that it’s fine for them to clean the onsen when it’s full of naked men?

Japan: Well, yeah, who else is going to do it? Who else is going to be totally unmoved by the site of a naked man than an old woman? Anyway, why all the questions about this? Don’t you have onsens in your country?

Me: It’s a bit difficult to have communal volcanic baths where i’m from.

Japan: Why?

Me: There’s a complete absence of volcanicness.

Japan: Ah.

Me: Plus there’s probably a lack of healthy old women who would voluntarily clean them when full of bathing men.

Japan: Oh.

Me: Also the culture doesn’t really have a long happy history of getting naked together.

Japan: I see.

Me: And the baths that people have in their homes can actually fit a fully grown human in comfort without resulting in leg contortion and/or back pain…unlike yours.

Japan: Really?

Me: Yeah. You can lie down and stretch your legs out in my country’s baths. It’s great. Your baths are tiny. Really uncomfortable.

Japan: Well of course.

Me: What?

Japan: Well, if you didn’t have any back pain then you wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the onsen, would you?

Me: But if you had…doesn’t matter. Onsens are nice. And bit odd.

Japan: Thanks. I think.


May 15, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized.

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