Monday, December 28, 2009

Murphy's Law in Nara

(NOTE: This post was written right after I finished my day but delayed on posting.)

(PICTURE: Me in front of Todaiji Temple which houses a big bronze Buddha.)

I just finished a great day in Nara. This place is way more my style then Kyoto. Nara has a small city feel yet is packed with history and nature. There's literally temples and deer around every corner.

(PICTURE: One of over 1,000 deer roaming around the temples and parks of Nara.)

(PICTURE: More deer. No culling!)

But enough about temples and deer already. This blog is about me and a dozen naked old men.

It was freezing today and I wanted to warm up after riding my bike all day. The people at my guest house told me there was a sento around the corner. The girl at my guesthouse said this sento was "very Japanese."

I should say here that a sento is a public bath. It is like an onsen except not natural hot water and not as nice. This was my first sento/onsen solo experience and of course Murphy's Law came into play. Let me do the highlights:

(PICTURE: This sento is a 1,000 X's nicer than the one I went to. It is a good example of showing many types of baths on the left though.)

Murphy's Law #1: Let me back track. Yesterday in Kyoto I took a shower without any shampoo or soap. I left my shampoo and soap in Koryama because I had read on the internet that my hostel had free shampoo and soap. I mixed up which hostel had these things and it turns out it wasn't my one in Kyoto. So no big deal, I just felt a little greasy. I actually half decided to go to the sento because I wanted to really scrub off. Well, turns out this was the first sento/onsen I have been to that doesn't have free shampoo and soap. I started to shower with only water and got lots of looks from all the men in the bath house. Yeah, they thought I was as dirty as I thought I was. Actually I probably thought I was dirtier since I knew I hadn't used soap in probably 36 hours.

Murphy's Law #2: The bath house was tiny. There was one person working there, a cashier when you first came in. The cashier's position was perfectly situated to look into both the boys and girls locker rooms. So, yeah, I got naked with an 70 year old Grandma staring at my hairy ass.

Murphy's Law #3: The 70 year old woman was the closest person in age to me. Every man in the bath was at least 80. I would have bet that at least half served in World War II.

Murphy's Law #4: Whenever you go to a bath house there is a shower that you sit at to clean yourself. At the shower is a big bowl that you use to wash off with. Well, like normal, I sat down at a shower with a bowl in front of it. I looked at the bowl though and there was a washcloth in it. Clearly someone was using this one. An old man pointed at me and then pointed to the corner. I thought he was banishing me to shower alone (I have nooooo problem with this). I quickly got up, said sorry, washed off the seat I had just sat on bar-assed and then went to the corner to shower. After about thirty seconds the old man waved me back over and gestured for me to bring my bowl.

Murphy's Law #5: After relaxing in a citrus bath (basically a bath with two huge bags of oranges in it) I got up to try another bath. All the eyes in the bathhouse looked at me as I sort of vaulted myself into a bath. After about a second I had the biggest shock of my life...literally. I had jumped into an ELECTRIC BATH. I had heard about these baths a few times but never actually saw one until I was smack in the middle of it. I lasted about ten seconds in the bath and then popped out. I got lots of grins from the old men who clearly knew I didn't know what I was jumping into. For the next fifteen minutes or so I felt a tingling in my limbs. Even now, about an hour later, I still have some tingling in my fingers.

Murphy's Law #6: I got out of the electric tub and sat in another tub with a man who proceeded to talk to me in Japanese for twenty minutes. He kept laughing after everything he said. I can only assume he was talking about me jumping into the bath.

Murphy's Law #7: After using the steam room and a herbal bath I went back to the shower to wash off. A man to the left of me handed me his soap. It was a really nice gesture by him and yes, I used the soap (I scrubbed it on my wash cloth then used it on my body). The man didn't offer me his shampoo though. After a couple of minutes the person on my right offered me his shampoo. For some reason a bunch of people turned to watch me use his shampoo...which I couldn't figure out how to open. I swear all those old men must think foreigners don't use shampoo. Well, the old man took the bottle, opened it and dumped a solid cup into my hands. I rubbed it into my scalp for a few minutes and then the man turned to me again and dumped MORE shampoo into my hands. My hair has never been so clean.

Murphy's Law #8: While washing my hair I got soap into my eyes. It stung like hell. I haven't had soap in my eye in years.

Murphy's Law #9: Masumi and Kensuke had made fun of me that I didn't know how to ring out a towel. Actually they think no foreigners know how to do this because my friend Jessica apparently couldn't ring out a towel well when she visited me and Masumi went to the onsen with her. Over my last day in Koryama, Masumi and Kensuke gave me some lesson on proper ringing out style. We actually figured out that indeed there is a difference between how Americans ring out a towel and how Japanese do. Japanese ring inside out, Americans ring outside in. You can actually see this in baseball grips. Next time you watch Ichiro watch how he holds a bat versus an American baseball player. Well, long Murphy's Law example short, I rang my towel so hard that soap squirted all over the person next to me. Yeah, he gave me a strange look.

Murphy's Law # 10 (This isn't a bad thing but rather just a comment): Right at the end of my showering a Yakuza sat down next to me. Usually Yakuza/people covered in tatoos aren't allowed into the bath houses. Well, this one was and he didn't look so friendly. I was glad that he didn't see me get into the bath without soaping up.

Murphy's Law #11: After changing back into my clothes another old man struck up a conversation with me with his limited English. His English phrases were in this order:
1. Strong (he motioned to me being tall).
2. Thank you (I am not sure for what).
3. I love you.

He said #3 right after he got totally naked.