October 28, 2009 GMT
Getting Naked with the Neighbours

Japan is an interesting country with some intriguing contradictions.

For example it is not OK to cough in public and definitely not OK to blow your nose in public- a bit tricky for me as I arrived with a cold and a cough from my Siberian experiences.
They are also a bit coy about the toilet, many toilet seats are heated so that you cannot tell if this is due to recent use by another person or not.
But then, in many neighbourhoods, the homes do not have bathrooms and so the public bath-house comes into play. In Tokyo I was using the bathhouse, my first visit (and, I hasten to add that the changing and bathing areas are separated by sex) I was led through the routine by a septuagenarian woman - showing me where to put my clothes, and indicating where to head next. This was into the steaming and warm area of the baths, where there was a row of taps at about knee height. I looked around to see what the others were doing so I could follow suit.

1. Grab a low plastic stool

2. Select a plastic basin

3. Position your stool in front of a pair of taps and sit down on it.

4. Fill your basin with warm water from the taps and wash yourself.

I committed a couple of faux pas (not unusual in my Japanese travels) by first of all not having a small towel, in appearance similar to a terry nappy, this is for washing with and wrapping hair in. I just used my hands like I do at home, and then I realised that I had selected the wrong basin, mine was smaller than everyone else's, and I had noted the Mickey Mouse decal on it, thinking to myself "Oh how the Japanese love their cartoons"

but had not realised these ones are meant for children. Never mind, I think I managed everything else without mishap.

After thoroughly washing and rinsing myself, it was time for the bath. There were three of them in the room of varying sizes, the smaller ones for three to four people while the larger one could hold eight of us.

I eased myself in and what bliss, the thermometer indicated a water temperature of 42 degrees, just perfect for lounging in. The baths are a sociable place and the women were chatting to one another.

I lay there in the steam thinking how strange, these same women would be appalled if I blew my nose in front of them and yet we're all in the same bath.

Posted by tiffanycoates at October 28, 2009 03:56 PM GMT

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