The Hotel Public BathI am third generation Japanese, all four of my grand parents are Japanese. I was born in Hawaii on the north shore of Oahu. I can speak a some Japanese, but would never be taken for a native Japanese.
A couple of years ago I visited Japan with my mother, sister and brother. We have relatives there and planed to stay with them in several different cities. In our travels, we stayed the night in a Japanese style hotel in a resort town on a lake. One of my Japanese third or fourth cousins was with us. After dinner, she asked me if I wanted to visit the public bath with her. I was eager to go because I wanted to experience as much of the culture as possible. At the time the word "public" did not register with me but as it turned out it meant that boys and girls would be in the bath together.
We started out by taking off all our clothes and donning a yukata, a casual cotton kimono, and slippers that were provided by the hotel. I felt kind of naked with only the thin kimono loosly wrapped around me and tied at the waist. We left the hotel room and walked to the entrance to the public bath. When we entered the bath we put our slippers in the rack near the door. As we stepped inside the bath, an attendant handed each of us a small towel. The towel was little more than a large wash cloth about a 12 inches wide and 18 inches long. We then entered the locker room. There were various stations for grooming yourself and even several massage chairs. My cousin told me that these were for use after completing our bath to prepare ourselves for exit. Here we removed our yukata and put them in a basket on a shelf. My cousin used her towel to cover her pubic area and I did the same. I followed her as she left the locker room and walked over to a series of short stools with hand showers near each one. There was shelves with different kinds of soaps and shampoos. She explained that before entering the hot bath we were expected to wash all over so as not to contaminate the bath. So we sat on the stool, wet ourselves down and scrubbed all over, taking extra care to clean our pubic area. We also shampooed our hair and rinsed well all over.
Now we was ready to step in the hot bath. It was like a shallow pool about 15 feet across and so long it curved around the the edge of the hotel and I couldn't see the other end. She went over to the steps and gracefully walked down into the pool. I did the same, not so gracefully because the water was hot, I mean hotter than any bath I've ever been in. At first I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stand it because my heart was already pounding and my face was sweating profusely. She led me over to the other side of the pool where there was a window that overlooked a garden outside the hotel. We stayed there for a while and I started feeling better, actually it was very relaxing and I was enjoying it. Then she said lets walk down near the other end of the pool. At this point I had no idea that there were naked boys and men at the other end. We got about half way down when I saw my first man, he was just entering the pool and his penis was in plain sight hanging there. I gasped and between the hot water and seeing him I almost fainted. Other girls and a few guys had seen me struggling and my cousin was talking to them. I heard the words Nihon-jin (Japanese person) and gai-jin (foreign person) mentioned several times but they were talking too fast for me to understand much. Then one of the girls motioned toward me and loudly exclaimed gai-jin and ever person in the bath started staring at me. Some of them started approaching me to get a better look. I whispered to my cousin, thanks a lot now lets get out of here quick before I pass out from the heat or humiliation. She lead me down to the women s end of the pool but a few of the guys followed us. I was near the steps but didn't want to get out because they would see my whole body naked. As long as I was in the water only my head and shoulders were visible. In about 15 minutes they were still there talking and sneaking glances at me, I think they wanted to see the gai-jin climb out of the pool so they could get a better look. I told my cousin she had to do something or I was going to pass out in this hot water but I wouldn't get out until they left. She went over and started yelling at them and I guess they got the message and walked down to the other end, looking over their shoulders. When I couldn't see them anymore I climbed out of the pool and some of the girls were staring at me. I don't look any different than them because I'm 100% Japanese but it was the idea of seeing a foreigner naked in the bath house. We went in the locker room, dried off and put on our kimonos and left the bath.
When we got back to room my sister asked me how was the bath. I only said it was great fun, the best yet, you should try it. I was disappointed that she didn't.
Chigeko 18-21, F 12 Responses 9 Jul 18, 2010