Jan 15, 2007

In Which I Remove All of My Clothing

“We’re gonna get naked!”
“Wait, what?”
“We’re gonna get naked with a bunch of old Japanese guys!” I’m in the back of Catgirl’s car when Ghost Face tells me this. We’re on our way to an onsen, a Japanese hot spring.
“So I brought swim trunks for no reason?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” I knew that some onsen were clothes-free affairs, but I’d just sort of assumed that only traditional or smaller ones were like that. More popular places, I assumed, were beclothed and such.
Now, I’d been to a nude hot spring before outside Eugene. It was ok- but my friends and I had the unfortunate experience of having strange old naked hippy dudes recite poetry to us whilst trying to be our friends. So far, Japan has been mercifully absent of strange old naked hippy dudes. I hoped this trend would continue when we got to our destination.
The place that we were going to was about a half hour outside Okayama in the countryside, allowing us to get quite the view of all manner of rice paddies and roofs on our way there. The place itself was a hotel with an adjoining onsen, and I was surprised that the admission was only 600 yen. I was expecting it to be far spendier. I went in to the locker room, and steeled myself for my imminent nudity among a bunch of strangers.
I think I would have been less hung up on it in the states, but here in Japan my self-consciousness has been turned up to eleven. I might as well be walking around with a flashing neon sign that says “FOREIGNER!” over my head, so I feel metaphorically naked quite a bit. Getting literally naked just sort of drove the point home.
Funnily enough, I was far more anxious about doffing my shirt than my skull-and-crossbones patterned boxers (yar, matey!). Taking off my shirt meant revealing my great swathes of chest hair begat my by my Italian/Irish heritage. Surrounded by a bunch of nigh-hairless smooth-chested Japanese guys, I felt more than a little simian. The fact that my chest hair is a black mass upon a pasty white field didn’t help matters.
After a few minutes, though, no one screamed in horror at my Chewbacca-like torso, so I think I was okay. Ghost Face and I showered, and got into one of the many tubs at the onsen. The first one was this sort of reclining thing with various water jets hooked up that massaged one’s back, sides, and feet. Several of the Japanese guys there had drenched their towels in warm water placed them on their head, so I did likewise. And lo, it was nice. Very nice. The various jets and streams were able to successfully vanquish the various knots and such in my back.
We moved to the outside tubs, various pools of steaming water arranged in ascending hotness. The idea is that one begins in the least hot tub, and gradually moves to the uppermost steamy pool. Various old men reclined in the pools, and I could have sworn that some of them were asleep. One guy’s broad glasses had steamed over with condensation, making it look as if his eyewear had been frosted by an eccentric glassworker.
And soon, I could understand their state of relaxation. While stewing there naked in very hot water, a mixture of steam and sweat began to form on my skin, and I gradually felt my various mental processes start to shut down. I sunk in to my chin, feeling my muscles loosen with the heat, and acquired what I’m sure was a dumb looking relaxed smile. Also, there was the complete lack of strange old naked hippy dudes, which was nice.
Smiling, submerged in hot water, with a wet towel on my head, I completely understood the appeal of an onsen. I becoming quite zombie like- but not the shambling, brain-craving zombie; more like a docile, non-mobile zombie.
Seriously- I was in utter aquatic ecstasy. It was like I loved everyone, everything was cool, and stuff was nifty. I was all “yeah, man,” and mellow. Despite having lived in Eugene, OR, "yeah, man" capital of the world, for quite some years, sitting there in a tub was the most calm I’ve felt in a long, long time.
So there it is- definitive proof that hot springs are better than marijuana, jam bands, and drum circles. If we had these sort of hot springs readily available in the U.S., I swear we could get the average hippy to trade in his ganja and bongos for hot tub time.
When I got out, felt more than a little woozy, and doused myself with cold water, which brought back a small percentage my various mental faculties. Out in the lobby, I got myself some green tea ice cream. Because, man, it just sounded so cool that someone would put green tea in ice cream. I had to try it.
“So, how do you feel,” asked British Girl, coming out of the womens’ half.
“I feel very Dude.” I said, sinking into a couch, eating my ice cream.
“Have you ever seen The Big Lebowski?”
“There you go. I feel very Dude right now.”
We regrouped, headed out, called a few people, and spent the rest of the evening wailing out pop music in a karaoke box. Johnny Cash makes for some surprisingly good karaoke singing, it turns out.


Joseph said...

God, those naked hippies were annoying. I'm happy that they have their own little happy hot-springs community, but dammit, I just wanted to get naked with friends and not have to deal with hairy older people handing me oranges and telling me bad poetry. Plus they were hogging the best warm spots!

Katie said...

I would just like to say you can delete this posting at any time, but I cannot resist. I did always enjoy the swirly butt hair. OK I am done. As for Joseph's comments, I love naked hippies in hot springs. I spent three hours with them naked naked naked. Then I came the closest I have ever come to fainting. Three hours is a long time.