Warm in Here (II) ...
Can we come back to the public bath again today, or is it too many times for the same topic to appear? Given how much time I spend in those places these days, perhaps it is inevitable that they turn out to be fertile ground for story episodes!
I said 'those places' because I have been exploring more public baths in this neighbourhood. It's not that I am bored with the bath just down the street from me, but - just as with the restaurants - it doesn't make sense to limit oneself to a single place, not when there is such wonderful variety at hand!
There are certainly nowhere near as many baths in this neighbourhood as restaurants, of course! That might have been true over a century ago, before 'eating out' became something that most people do all the time and there were no baths inside the homes, but these days bathing at home is the norm, so the bath owners are having a tough time of it, and their number is decreasing steadily.
I have a 'bath map' here printed by the local City Bath Association, in an effort to help encourage people to get out and try more of the local baths, and I have been doing the rounds of all the ones within walking distance of our shop. Seen one bath, seen them all? No way! They are all very different in style, and in clientele.
I have already written in a previous story about the fact that I meet up with some very heavily tattooed people at my local bath, but this is not common at all; most of the other baths have signs letting people know that tattoos are not allowed, and some baths make it more explicit, with 'No Gangsters' posted outside. But it's not the other bathers that make the big difference for me when I visit one of the other nearby baths, it's the water temperature.
My local keeps their water at 43 degrees (around 109F, for our US readers). On one's first trip to Japan, you felt that getting into such a bath was just not going to be possible, but you did ooze yourself in, bit by bit, and it didn't take long before such a temperature became completely normal, and now, if they sometimes let it slip a bit to 42, or even 41, you want to complain that the water is too tepid.
So it is with me; although getting in is still a sting and enough to make me gasp, a minute later I am happily submerged in the wonderfully relaxing hot water.
But two of my neighbouring baths have a different policy on water temperature. I went to the Kotobuki-yu a while back, and after washing myself down and heading towards the bath I noticed that they had split their main tub into two sections. As one side was pretty crowded, with not much room for anybody else to join, and the other side was completely unoccupied, I headed for the open space, of course.
I got one leg in, and then swiftly withdrew it. What? Looking up at the temperature gauge on the wall (required for all these baths) I saw that it read 45 (113F). No way. It's not possible to get into this. But as I stood there, another man came to the bath, stepped in, submerged himself, and turning to face outwards into the room, looked up at me.
OK guy, I get it; and in I went. It took me a while, and I think it probably paralleled my very first bath experience in Japan many years back, only getting in up to my waist, but I did get in.
But I didn't last long, and neither did the other guy, nor did anybody else who got into that tub during the time I was there. After getting out and washing my hair under the taps, I went over to the other side, and soaked in the normal water along with everybody else.
When I mentioned this to friends later, they all figured that this must have been an error on the bath owner's part, but I have since been back there, and confirmed with the operator that 45 is their policy for that tub. "Plenty of our customers like it!" was what I was told.
I refrained from asking if they had a hot line to the local ambulance service, but kept quiet. After all, I'm just a 'gaijin', and everybody knows we can't handle a Japanese bath!
Story #482, March 22, 2015