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Birthday Traditions Old and New (Like, so new they're not even a tradition yet...)

JAPAN | Saturday, 19 March 2016 | Views [524]

On Thursday, I decided to celebrate my birthday in some kind of imitation of tradition. One part of the tradition was getting pancakes. (Another part was going to a Japanese restaurant where they cook the food in front of you, which sounds like it should have been much easier to find than it was. To be fair, I didn’t really try, and just decided getting okonomiyaki the next day was close enough.) So after class ended on Thursday, I went to Hoshino in Umeda to get pancakes.

I ended up needing to put more money on my IC card on the train, and didn’t realize until after I’d already ordered and eaten that the cafe did not have a way to take credit cards. It was a large restaurant with a computer-driven system for paying the bill. But they couldn’t take credit cards.

After no less than four people came over to talk in simple Japanese or simpler English, I finally understood that they wanted me to go to an ATM and get money. I asked where the ATM was, was pointed in the direction, and then right before I left they asked for my bag, but didn’t object when I stopped to grab my notebook out of it. I wonder if they would have objected if I’d gone for the tablet instead…

I missed the obvious and nearby ATM and ended up running around the shopping mall area until I at last found a 7/11 and was able to get cash from the ATM in there. Then I headed back as quickly as I could, hoping they hadn’t given up on my return and burnt my purse/started talking with police to make a police sketch. And of course on the way back I saw the nearest ATM to Hoshino. However, they had my purse and no arrest warrants, so I was able to pay and head back.

On the way between the train station and my apartment, I ran into Elena, who was going to the onsen. She asked if I wanted to join her, and I said yes. I’d been to a smaller onsen the last time I’d been in Japan, and I’d heard other people talk enthusiastically about the nearby one, but for some reason hadn’t gone before. So off we went.

The nearest onsen is in the same area that has the Super and the JR station, so it’s pretty close. It’s also 600 yen, which is cheap, at least from an American perspective. Yamaguchi-sensei doesn’t’ seem too impressed with it, but everyone else pretty much is.

The first thing was to take off our shoes, put them in the locker, take the key, and proceed to pay. They gave us a promotional pamphlet, a wristband, and a hand-towel-sized-towel, and we continued you. There was a foot court, and a couple of claw games like they want to pretend they’re secretly a shopping mall. Elena got a smoothie, and during the time she was eating it two people came over to talk to us. After they left, I joked to Elena that this would be a great place to come with our surveys. (In actuality, though, it would. Old Japanese people are like the only ones who are friendly when you meet them on the street, and if you start talking to them when they don’t have anything else to do, they’d probably respond positively.)

Once Elena was done with her smoothie, we continued on to the actual baths part of the onsen. There were more lockers where everything we were wearing or carrying had that wasn’t our shoes, the towel, or the key to the locker went. Next we showered.  They had soap and shampoo provided, though if you were particular about that sort of thing you could bring your own, and some people had. Once we were clean, we could go on to the baths.

The room that we came out into had one bath that was essentially a hot tub. There was also a cold tub that no one was in, so it was easy to overlook. There was one area that had bubbles, and another that was electric and tingly feeling. And then most of the bath was normal, which was preferable.

I’d tried to tie the towel to keep my hair up the way that I’d seen other people do, but had not done a good job. One of the older women in the bath came over to try and help me with it, and eventually do it entirely herself when it became clear I had no idea what she was doing.

I noticed that there were people going through a door, so I asked Elena what was through there. “More baths. Do you want to go?” So we went. The outside was way larger, and it was hard to ignore the part of my mind that was going “that looks interesting and different! You should go check that out!” And just sit in each of the different areas enjoying them. But we were there for a while, so I had the time to do both.

There were two baths which, similar to the one inside, were large and full of hot water. However, the hot water was a special kind of water. For the day that we were there, I think it was ginger? (They had a drawing, and also kanji and hiragana. It looked like ginger.) But there were other types that they changed every few days. White day water, night sakura water, etc. The color looked different, but I think the only real difference between those two baths were that one was hotter than the other.

Past those were three human-sized buckets, full to the brim with water that was continuing to fill up from a faucet near the top. Getting in is a demonstration of Archimedes’s principle, and it serves as motivation not to move, because moving will upset the water more. And if you just stay resting, almost floating, in a world to yourself...sitting in a large bucket never felt as appealing in theory before as it did in practice.

There were also personal baths with strong jets that was super relaxing. Right next to it was a large bath that seemed to be the most popular one. Probably because there was a TV there and the women felt more comfortable chatting with each other there. Even though I was pretty close to them, letting water massage my back and calves, the noise of the water mostly drowned out their conversations and the TV. There was also a dry sauna that I did not go into.

After we were done, we went back to the showers and rinsed off again, then dried off and changed back to our clothes. So my 21st birthday was the day that I learned that I could get sufficiently dry with a single hand towel, though that left my hair still pretty wet and dripping. I probably need two hand towels if I want to be able to deal with that. Then I said goodbye to Elena and headed back to my apartment, feeling relaxed and peaceful.

A few vacations ago, I was in Edinburgh with my family when the apartment we were renting had the water shut off for a while. Once that had been dealt with, the landlord made it up for us by treating us to day passes at a very nice spa. I don’t remember a lot of details about that, other than that I really enjoyed it and there was water everywhere.

The onsen reminded me of that. Only cheap and really close. I’m not sure why it took me so long to go, but I should definitely go back. (After all, I need to find out what night sakura water is. Sounds mystical and cool.) And also figure out what kind of onsens Yamaguchi-sensei thinks are impressive and go to one of those. Because I thought the nearby one was pretty great, but...

Tags: money, onsen, pancakes, water

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