A Conversation for Japanese Public Bath Houses: an Eye-Witness Account
Another eye-witness account
FromWithin Started conversation Jul 13, 2000
I was persuaded into going to a spa by my Japanese friends. I surprised myself by agreeing to it. It was a very big place, the biggest in the area (I even bought the t-shirt!).
First thing that struck me was the big sign outside with a picture of a dragon on it. It turned out that the sign meant "No Yakuza!" (the Yakuza is the Japanese equivalent to the mafia or the triads). We paid our money and got our kimono's. Hawaiian, of course. Upstairs there was a karaoke area and another communal area. There was some terrible singing coming from the karaoke. Really bad. Upstairs again were the baths. Male on one floor and female on another. Clothes went into a locker and I took a flannel with me. The place I was at did obviously not get many (any?) foreigners, so I had a lot of people staring at me in disbelief. Especially the little kids who were there. The old men would look at me with surprise and then after considering my presence, go back to their relaxing, but the kids would really stare. Incidentally, this happened in most places in Japan I went to. The most major city I went to was Osaka which was the only place where this didn't happen. One time, in an elevator in Aomori, the doors opened and the girl waiting actually ran away when she saw me inside!
Anyway, this particular spa had about 9 different baths and a sauna room. Each bath had a temperature gauge above. After washing pretty thoroughly I tried one. Each one was very different from others with all manner of different types of water, minerals, and smells. One was a really nasty translucent yellow colour. All were pretty hot, around the 40 degree mark, and they stay hot as the hot water is constantly flowing. The baths were quite deep, with all of them having a sort of low bench as part of the bath wall. Sitting on the floor of most of the baths would mean submerging your head. Usually they would have an angled wall opposite the bench to put your feet on. A very relaxing setup. Some of them had bubbles which were pretty powerful. They gave a good massage, but I'm sure there'd be some bruising if you stayed there long enough.
I too thought that the outside bath was an air conditioned room until I saw the stars. The room contained its own washing areas and had some strange smelling milky water in the bath from some nearby prefecture. It flowed into the bath from a rather nice waterfall in the corner. I stayed in that bath for a few minutes and felt quite light-headed when I got up.
Time for the sauna. I'd never been in one before. It was quite a shock opening the door - the heat was incredible! I immediately considered turning around but went in anyway. It was mostly old men in there. There was a bunch of towels in the corner. The idea was to use them to sit on. A TV was in the corner showing some bizarre program. The people in there looked very relaxed and would laugh at the TV from time to time while I just sat there thinking "Oh my god. How hot?". I stuck it out for as long as could and then had to get out of there. After that it was time to move on.
We went out of the baths and put on the kimonos. The male kimonos were a sky blue colour while the female ones were green. On exiting the bath area was a nice smelling small room with about 8 sinks for putting the final touches to your newly cleansed body. It had little baskets of packets containing a comb, a toothbrush and a razor. Around each sink was shaving foam, aftershave, toothpaste, moisturiser, things like that.
After the baths, the usual thing to do is go to the relaxation area. This was up on the next floor. It was a big room with many reclining seats and a number of televisions. First I had a go of the massage chair which was quite good. Then I bought a drink from one of the vending machines and we found a bunch of seats to lie down. There were quite a few snoring people in there, and occasionally, someone would get a little bit too relaxed and let their anus do the talking. Apparently people often stay there all night.
I came back like a new man.
In all it was a very good experience, one that I would like to try again. It's very addictive. I did stay in a hotel which had it's own spa. I used it quite late at night and it was completely empty, which was nice.
Another eye-witness account
Nock Posted Oct 12, 2000
Don't forget, if you get the chance, to visit the doro-onsen (mud baths) or suna-onsen (hot sand baths). They are quite comfortable. There are several in the Japanese resort town of Beppu, which incidentally also has Takasago Mountain, where you can see wild monkeys running free.
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