Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Only 3495 left to try.

Onsen and I have a little understanding; I am permitted to bask in its delicate, soft, warm waters as long as every time I do so, it reserves the right to reduce me to a one man band of incompetence. Onsen, for those of you not schooled in the art of getting your kit off in front of random people, is Japanese hot springs. These glorious pools, of which my neighboring town has 3500, are volcanic fissures of undiluted bliss. So as to comply with the spice of life mantra, Onsen come in many flavors, indoor, outdoor, private, public, hot enough to boil an egg, swimsuit wearing ones where everybody relaxes together and ones where you birthday-suit up and boys and girls get their own pools. It is the last of these choices that inevitably leads to Roland saying `ai, my poor bunny` as he looks on in mock sincerity while I regale him with the tales of my misadventures.

It all started with a red curtain covered in Kanji I could not read at the time. An old hand at onsening had asked me along to try this very Japanese pursuit of relaxation and I was keen to tag along. As I was about to pull the red curtain aside and enter the dressing area I heard my new friend shout `no Freda that onsen is not for you, that is for the sempai or people who have been to an onsen before, you should go into the blue curtain. It goes a long way in showing how gullible I really am, that I was nearly completely into the boys dressing room before my friend called out, through tears of laughter to get back to the girls side of things.

My encounter of the second kind went equally well. I found myself alone this time in a room that I was desperately hoping was the all female dressing room. As the saying goes `when in Rome get naked really fast and shove all your clothes in the locker provided` and as I am not one to argue that is exactly what I did (I am aware that the latter part of this statement is far from true but allow me some literary license here). I peered into the next steamy room and was relieved to see a few more naked ladies. So far, so good. I walked nonchalantly and with way more confidence than what I actually possessed, to my washing station and started to scrub up. Once clean I slid into the water buzzing with soda-stream jets and got my relaxation on. I even braved the outside pool where I could see water turning to grassy planes to stormy seas and finally to a bustling city beyond the bay but nobody could see me.

I stepped inside the changing room to find the usual, dressed ladies blow-drying their hair, bottles of body lotion, towels drying over locker doors and a man lying down with his chest and face covered with a little towel and the rest of him covered with what I was sure was men`s underwear. Oh no what do I do, do I rush back to the pool, do I make a dash for my towel in the locker, what if more men show up in this obviously shared resting room which only a slow foreigner could possibly imagine to be a ladies room. However, before I reached the very bottom of my crazy spiral, `the man` started to talk with a distinctly old lady voice to her granddaughter standing by the bathroom scale. We all got dressed and I met Roland in the lobby for a helping of `ai bunny, such an imagination`.

Since my first few waltzes with these wonderfully warm temples of letting go, I have somewhat improved and no longer step on quite so many toes. This is just as well, since a few days ago all the water pipes at my flat froze and onsen provided an attractive opposing option to washing with a bucket in the frozen wasteland that was my bathroom. Few things truly compare with gazing out over the ocean or looking down from the roof of a high-rise building over the lively city while relaxing with friends in temperate water, sometimes even watching a few flakes of snow drifting slowly down. It has even been enough to elicit the odd comment of `ai bunny can you believe that this is our lives` from my usually quiet companion.

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