Memoirs Of A Japanese Bathhouse
I’ve said countless times over the years: Pale is the new tan. Well, now I have an entire country backing me up. Even though Tokyo has to be without a doubt the HOTTEST place I have ever in my life been to (yes, hotter than Las Vegas hot tubs in the 110 degree summers and hotter than Miami beaches without sunscreen), the Japanese women are insistent not to ruin their porcelain complexions. So insistent, that despite the grueling heat and humidity that had both my sister Lauren and I practically crawling back to the hotel by 5 pm, they would wear full covered outfits, with “arm sleeves” protecting their arms from the sun, and umbrellas opened up protecting them further. Meanwhile, I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt and was about to just melt all over the place. But enough about the “new tan”, and onto the story…
Lauren and I searched every department store in Tokyo looking for a bathing suit for the hot springs. This, of course, was an epic fail because as you know, women in Japan apparently abhor the sun, so why would they ever put on a bikini?
Needless to say, we figured we’d head out to the hot springs anyway, and buy something on sight. I mean, what hot springs theme park wouldn’t sell bathing suits, right?
Wrong. Upon getting to Oedo Onsen Monogatari, we waited in line with a gaggle of Japanese folks to receive our traditional kimono. I was so excited I was practically jumping up and down. Okay, I’m pretty sure I was jumping up and down. Ever since seeing “Memoirs of a Geisha”, it’s been one of my life dreams to doll up like a geisha. While I didn’t have the red lipstick and white face-paint, everything else was exactly on point. But, I digress.
We went into the changing room, where we consult the English Pamphlet we were given at the front desk. There, we see a cartoon of a white girl, wearing no clothes. We did a quick peripheral of our surroundings, noticing that the Japanese were wearing no clothes under the kimono, either. Lauren and I looked at each other, shrugged, and gave each other a look that said, “When in Tokyo.” Talk about sister bonding.
The hot spring was amazing. Just what we needed after days of walking in the Tokyo heat. You start by sitting on little stools with a bucket and bathing. Then, you alternate between the bath with natural brown water, filled with bucolic iron, to the massaging tubs with jet streams, to the steam room, to the sauna, to the ice cold plunge, to the hot regular water, to the lukewarm water. Finally, you march your naked self outside to the outdoor springs, complete with individual baths in wooden barrels, as well as a hot spring with rocks and a waterfall.
When you bathe again and put the kimono back on, you can go to the “foot bath” outside, which is a stream that has you walk over rocks (ouch!), but is supposed to relieve tension. Then they have the “fish therapy”, another foot bath that has thousands of little fish swimming around “massaging” your feet.
The biggest differences we observed from being in the nude with all these Japanese women were: 1. They don’t have tanlines. 2. It’s completely normal for grandma, daughter, and granddaughter to lounge around together in the hot springs. Naked. 3. A regimen of white rice and seaweed is obviously the diet program we have been missing out on in America. Everyone was so skinny, we felt like ginormous French Fry eating Americans.
We had a traditional Japanese lunch on the tatami floor mat. Well, sort of traditional. Lauren had udon noodles and I tried to order something that was supposed to be vegetarian, but ended up having little shrimp and other sea urchins lodged inside. So instead, I ordered French fries. No surprise there.
We finished the day with traditional Japanese massages, which was absolute bliss. Taking the shuttle bus back to Tokyo Center, we found a place to eat for dinner. What was for dinner, you ask? Cheese pizza and white wine. Guess I’ll never be a true geisha.
By: Jessica Tiare Bowen