Saturday, February 07, 2009

To see or not to see

Recently Tetsu and I have been making it a habit to go to the hot springs on the weekends. Tetsu has always loved hot springs and the resort like facilities with hot spring water piped in from somewhere. I'm not as fond of these places as Tetsu but I decided that in my old age I'd better have a common interest with my husband and he certainly isn't going to take up patchwork.

Japanese are very good at not seeing some things. Houses bump up against each other so close that you could open the curtains and look into your neighbor's living room but in theory no one "sees" what the neighbor is doing. I have waved to people from my open kitchen window but I'm not "seen". No one waves back. It would be terribly impolite to be caught looking into a house no matter how close it is to the street so we just don't "see". At the hot spring, I pretend not to look at the people around me but it is a little disconcerting to step into a bath and find a fellow PTA mother or a neighbor sitting next to you in the buff. I feel like a real Japanese when I can carry on a conversation smoothly without ever "seeing" below the neck.

For Christmas I bought both Tetsu and myself little hot spring bags that have all the necessary hot spring implements. Let's see. What's in my bag?

Sample bottles of shampoo and rinse though usually the hot springs will provide these.
A scrubbing towel that is nylon and suds up nicely.
A longish face towel that is all purpose. Useful for washing, for drying (well wiping off a wet body), for hiding certain portions of the body when walking around in front of people. More on this later.
A pumice stone.
A fold away hairbrush.

I guess that's about it.

Anyway, Tetsu and I went to a neighboring hot spring this morning and we parted at the doors dividing the men's' side from the women's' side. Usually we agree to meet back in about an hour and a half. There is always a changing room with lockers and cubbies and sometimes with big baskets for people to fold their clothes away. After stripping I grab my long face towel and nonchalantly drape it over my front as I head for the bathing area. Usually I get a shock when I'm confronted with a mirror and I "see" my mother's body under my horrified face! This is definitely something I didn't want to see! The towel hides very little and there are parts of me sticking out on both sides.

The bathing area has loads of little squatting areas sometimes with a mini-stool and each area has a bucket and a shower and usually shampoo and body soap. I scrub up quickly and rinse off thoroughly and with my little towel I walk out to the outdoors hot spring pool. I prefer being outside rather in the indoor baths where the only thing to look at is each other. My non-seeing skills aren't that good. The little hiding towel isn't supposed to go into the very clean hot water so most people fold it up on top of their heads like a little hat and let it balance there. I'm not so skilled at balancing so I leave it by the side of the pool.

In Japan even the monkeys enjoy hot springs in the winter. I've never "seen" one in the bath myself but this picture reminds me of all us ladies huddled in the hot spring this morning. (Picture from the Internet)


Rae Ann said...

Tanya: I'm learning more and more! I had heard of these hot springs where people share....I also heard of community bath houses, but I wasn't sure that was for real. I beginning to be a beliver now. I remember when I was in Hawaii to meet my Auntie and Uncle from Japan for the first time...we all went to my other Aunties apartment, it was very small. My Uncle and Auntie started changing their clothes (they were dressed like they had come from church, when in fact they had just gotten on the airplane)right in the livingroom, in front of all of us. I was told in Japan, no one has a private space, everything is shared. Rae Ann

Amanda said...

Whilst public swimming pools all have private cubicles for changing, and of course everyone all wears a swimming costume, private (expensive) members' health clubs usually have communal changing rooms and showers, where one has to learn to be 'blind'. When I was younger I found this difficult and used to get changed in the toilet cubicle and then shower when I got home, but I'm more relaxed now - though like you I hat to catch sight of my own body. I can't see nude bathing catching on here though. Love the monkeys.

tami said...

I don't think I could go. I wouldn't trust others ability to "not see" me.
I love reading your little windows into Japanese life and culture.

Nancy said...

So well told, Tanya, and the pic at the end is perfect!

Quilt Pixie said...

learning not to "see" is definately a skill -- one needed in close quarters.

Quiltin' LibraryLady said...

Another interesting slice of Japanese life. I think the not "seeing" and not "knowing" also plays a part in small town American life. After a number of years we know so much about the other people living in the same town that we unconsiously act like we don't "know" a thing!

Chocolate Cat said...

Mmmm how hard to 'not see'!! but then I certainly wouldn't want to be 'seen' myself!! Another interesting post - thank you.

grace (mother) said...

this is your mom. takumi is here visiting with us. marcy is away at the moment so we are playing with takumi`s new toy. im haveing him do the typing because he is faster on this thing then i am. enjoyed your hot spring story. would love to have been there with you.

Christine Thresh said...

I love your stories about everyday life in Japan.
I was told that the "not seeing" and "not hearing" tradition came from the early houses where the inside walls were paper. Is that true?

meggie said...

Another totally fascinating post about life in Japan!
I do hope Chip is feeling better
Gentle hugs to herXX