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Washing off the Dirt

JAPAN | Tuesday, 13 May 2014 | Views [855] | Scholarship Entry

My first glimpse of Finland is everything I imagined it to be. The rustic log cabin before me looks suitably Scandinavian and the steamy sauna within beckons. Japanese visitors mill around on the path outside, chatting and laughing. They are all naked. For that matter, so am I.

But this isn’t some extreme Nordic naturist experience. It’s Spa World in downtown Osaka, a multi-floored modern-take on Japan’s traditional hot springs. The cheery website promises, ‘a complete facility for aquatic enjoyment!’ I’m on the fourth floor in the ‘Europe Spa Zone’, where baths are themed to match their corresponding country.

Skin reddened from hopping between sauna and plunge pool, I head over to Greece for something more Mediterranean. Here the baths are infused with a potent mix of herbs. Easing myself into scalding muddy water, I am engulfed by the aroma of lavender and thyme.

After Greece, it's time for a break in Germany. Half-expecting sausages and sauerkraut, I end up choosing a cone of shaved ice topped with neon-bright syrup. Finding an empty plastic recliner I settle back, draping an undersized towel strategically across my lap. Plastic trees shade me from the artificial noon light. The soporific sounds of splashing water and murmured conversation drift towards me. Dozing off, I awaken to find my legs have glued themselves to the chair.

Wandering about again, I notice women lining up for what I assume to be a massage. On a whim, I decide to do the same. Twenty minutes later a diminutive therapist emerges from behind a white curtain, beckoning me inside.

Gesturing for me to hop up on the table, she dons a pair of gloves. Their surface looks somewhat similar the 60-grit sandpaper I used on our bathroom walls. However, these are used on my back – with vigour. The therapist pauses only to present rolls of dead skin for inspection. I struggle to think up an appropriate response with my limited Japanese. Eventually I settle for a weak, ‘sugoi’. Great. Stumbling off the table at the end of the treatment, skin stinging, I give my thanks. Consulting a pamphlet, I realise I have just visited the ‘washing off the dirt corner.’

I spend my last hour in the salt saunas of the Aegean and the baths of Spain, before dressing and settling my account. Heading out towards the subway, I find the inner-city air laden with noise and grit. But my scrubbed-skin is still wrinkled like a pink pickled plum from a day spent soaking at Spa World. I have never felt cleaner.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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