. . at the onsen! The big activity this lovely Sunday was relaxing with okaa-san at the Super-Sen in Kyoto. We talked about it yesterday and I told her how I wanted to go to one, so she picked up my slack and looked one up for us. This place was only 15ish minutes away, but okaa-san doesn’t drive often and says she’s bad at it (I mostly disagree), so it was definitely an adventure. Every turn it told us to take she ignored, and it wasn’t until we got that that I figured out that it was okay because she just didn’t want to cross over and drive up on the busier street that navi was suggesting. Yeah, a bit of a ride indeed but we made it!
So onsen are these public Japanese baths (read about it on the link above) where people go to relax in a huge tub or a variety of tubs with various features. You go into the building, take your ticket, split for men vs women and head on into the locker room, so to speak. There you put you stuff in a locker and strip down to nothing – I wasn’t kidding – so take off all your clothes and grab your shampoo, loofah and a washcloth (you can bring or rent these, although this place had shampoo & soap). Then you go into the baths themselves and sit (or stand) at a washing station and properly bathe yourself. Like, you give yourself a shower right then and there and you make sure you’re cleaner than you’ve ever been before. Some might call it unsanitary (mother) but it’s really clean and you’re probably not thinking about the system itself, just how it sounds, which is definitely foreign for most Western ears.
This place was a super-sen, so there were all types of baths including some denkiburo, rotenburo, sirukuburo, sauna and a few others. We went in to all of them, although the sauna was murderous (I could only stay in increments of ~1 minute) and the denkiburo was one of the weirdest, most interesting experiences I’ve ever had. I kept going back to that one 😉 Anyways, there were a lot of different baths, a lot of people there and wow does the female body come in so many shapes and sizes. I just haven’t seen this many people nude in my whole life before, and alas, it’s because they were all here. It was super interesting and honestly pretty freeing to just be there and out in the open like that – I mean either you’re already super comfortable with your body or it makes you be super comfortable with it, and there’s no weird looks or commentary, just you in the nude with a bunch of other ladies. Kinda wicked! If you’re gaijin yes, you will get looks for being the only not-Japanese person in the place, but it wasn’t obnoxious and at the end of the day we were all chilling (or burning) in the same place, no problem.
I will say that as someone who’s super heat sensitive I definitely felt dizzy most every time I got out of a bath, since they were all like 100ºF minimum, but it was still grand and to be fair we were there for about 1 1/2 hours. Just be sure to either rinse with the not-burning water or use the cool showers to get a break, or chill on a chair at the rotenburo if you really need some air. When we finished (sadly, but it was time for us to stop melting) they had hair dryers, lotion, and a drink machine where I got some of the best iced hot cocoa I’ve ever had. Go Japanese vending machines! Then we headed home, again ignoring the navi because why else would you have it?
After a few hours of hanging around with my homework it was dinner time, aka barazushi, which is Kansai-ben for chirashizushi. That, plus miso and tofu with secret sakura patterns on it that you could see when you poured soy sauce on it. Sugoi! Oh, and before dinner I had this waffle cone-ish matcha ice cream + azuki + dango ice treat that might be my new favorite freezer snack, mhmmm it was good. Then after dinner came interesting conversation about one of my classes, titled ‘Minorities and Immigrants in Contemporary Japan”. I was trying to explain to okaa-san what it was about, which is: the complexity of race vs ethnicity, deconstructing the projected image of what it means to be Japanese and understanding the history and thinking behind how the nation decided what to project as it’s self image in the face of it’s crumbling lie of homogeneity. It’s hard in English, so you can imagine that it didn’t go much better in Japanese. Heh, heh, cry.
What I did tell her, in Japanese, was that it’s about minority groups, and it questions ‘how to be Japanese’ and how that idea of Japanese-ness is constructed, as well as how groups who fail to fulfill the theory of Nihonjinron fit in, or don’t, with the national image of self. I think it was in part due to lost-in-translation, in part the language either not existing or not conveying the same message in Japanese, but we were definitely not on the same page over it.
What was interesting to me is where she took it, going into a very equalist standpoint. She originally told me she was surprised to hear me using terms like zainichi and burakumin, which are ethnic groups in Japan who’ve experienced discrimination for these distinctions. She has friends of those backgrounds and others, and she understood my class as not an attack, per say, but an unnecessary focus on what should be a moot point we don’t get held back by anymore. She said how we’re all just people, and explained how she doesn’t understand the necessity of these distinctions and why you would want to keep such types of discrimination/weighted words alive when we’re a society that should be moving past that. I mean, it was inspiring to hear but we definitely missed each other in translation and are seeing wildly different things in the course. I have nothing conclusive about this, just my interest in her viewpoint of dredging up discrimination when these are just people, Japanese people, versus the exploration of a history and minority population continuing to shape the way Japan defines herself today. Heavy for the night, so with that I came to bed. Alas, Liz is sleepy and midnight is approaching, so g’night y’all.