More Than A Bath

The local bath houses are called Yuu or Sento located within the city or village where Japanese people go to socialize and bathe.  Most homes have shower and baths but ritual and tradition bring people to the bath houses, its an Event. Young Mothers bring in children, older mothers and grandmothers come alone, perhaps meeting their friends.

The bathhouse is gender separated, one large dressing room with large benches for sitting, long counters with sinks, massage chairs with magazine tables, a tatami mat or wooden floor are common decor. The bathing area awaits behind the steamed glass.

Step into the entrance, pay the attendant and you’re guided to the proper gender bathing area.  After pretending not to be totally embarrassed, self consciously strip and stow your clothing in one of the lockers (shoes were left outside the main entrance), leave your towel on top of the clothing pile.  Carry your soap, shampoo, wash cloth and parade over to the double sliding door and step into a  giant steaming room lined by shower heads and faucets, the soaking tubs are in the center or along the opposite wall.  While  juggling your bath gear, take a plastic dish pan size tub, a small plastic seat about 12″ in diameter and 12″ off the floor – long legged persons be prepared to have your knees up to your chest – and sit at a faucet and tiled counter that is 24″ above the floor. The faucet is multifunctional, turn this knob for spout, turn that knob another way for the shower head. Caution by previous experience: The water may be extremely hot so pay close attention to the hidden hot/cold mixture knob before turning on the water. All operating instructions are written in Japanese, sometimes with picture-grams.

“Manner rules”  are also posted but written in Japanese. Look around the room and discreetly watch the locals, spend less than 2 seconds on any one person or you might be considered rude.
1) Don’t splash the next person sitting next to you. (12″ of elbow room                        between neighbors is plenty of space!)
2) No smoking or drinking
3) No soap or towels in the soaking tubs
4) Don’t dump out the cold salt water with your bath pan
5) No running or jumping
6) Wipe or shake off excess water before leaving the bath area.  hint: take a                small hand towel and keep it dry
7) Enjoy your bath

Once you’ve lathered up,  scrubbed your feet and thoroughly rinsed, leave your bath items and walk to the soaking tubs.  The tiled Tubs are generally 3 ft deep, 6-8 ft across and 15-20 ft long. Each tub varies in dimension. Fresh hot water is continually piped in. Sometimes its heated by propane, we’ve seen wood heated ones too. Sometimes the water is piped  in from a mountain hotspring – the true Onsen, or the purified seawater has been heated.  The first one will be beyond hot, some reach 110 degrees. Try the second or third one, down around 100 degrees. Watch out for the electric outlet soaking tub  (The electrical therapy tub) John was unaware and swore he received a 110v shock treatment directly to his lower backside. He embarrassingly broke rule #5.   (But more importantly, I believe he has fully recovered from random tics, cursing outbursts and muscle spasms.)

Once accustomed to the hot water, the bath makes you feel like you are in a different world. The world stops as you float in the bubbling jets, the aches and pains disappear. Soak as long as you can stand the heat.
The cold tub is a definite must!  After being thoroughly heated just before the sweating stage get into the ice cold tub. Sea water is purified and piped in, or city water has been chilled to 50 degrees. Don’t hesitate just sit down. After the initial shock to your senses the water begins to feel warm. Move between the hot and cold tubs a couple of times no sense of hot or cold remains. There are stand up shower stalls for the elderly, outdoor cold soaking tub for the real hardy folk, and steamy saunas.

On the women’s side, grannies my age and beyond may share a different experience. They come to you with soap or shampoo, sometimes somebody will offer to wash your back, they talk in quiet voices and relax in the tubs together. Lathered, rinsed , and soaked at least twice over you’re ready to get out.
After  wiping off the excess water or drip drying, step into the cool air of the dressing room experience.  Just as ritual as bathing, you enter the realm of Japanese woman body acceptance, whatever its form. Shiny skin glowing from the heat. Their aura is peaceful and relaxed. They smile at one another, marvel at their  own forms,  verbally express to one another their  gratitude for cleanliness and relaxation.
They sit on the large benches with their bath towels casually draped around their shoulders. Without inhibitions they weigh themselves, pat their nude bottoms, lotions, hair brushes, and clean face towels are brought out. Joined in by most, they chatter about the dinner menu or news events, the latest fashions, this and that takes. Half dressing, half sitting they continue to share the moment of womanhood.
From start to finish, more than an hour of intimate time in the bathing experience. Last summer I was very privileged to experience the bath ritual with 3 generations. My mother, sister and niece.

After the first intimidating bath experience, you learn to relax after becoming accustomed to the 2 second gawks, nods and curious smiles. After all, these are just local bath houses with local people from small cities or villages and foreigners  (gaijins) are rare in the local bath house.

The Onsen is very different, many Japanese tourists go for a weekend getaway and you will encounter many foreigners. It isn’t quite the intimate experience with total strangers.  Most of the Onsen are tattoo forbidden but lately it has become subtly ignored. We didn’t have any issues with our tattoos but were very self conscious of the implication -Yakuza members.

This is Kasasa Ebisu, The Southerrn tip of Kyushu on our way to Nagasaki back in May 2017.  I had the entire bath area to myself as did John. Its very elegant, the ambiance is what matters most in these places.

Japan Adventures

A mega, uber technical country with slow lousy, expensive wifi or none at all, a Data sim card is $55 for 3 GB.
I haven’t blogged about Japan, either moving in the southern volcanoe islands with no wifi, no data or just too busy or lazy.
Nearly 9 months have passed since arriving in Japan. This is a very short version, I’ll write more about some of the nicer adventures in the upcoming blogs.

April to May , 2017
We left beautiful Okinawa ultra modern marina, great new friends, and departed for the Japanese tropical blue water islands 60 miles west of Okinawa and then turned North towards Kyushu. We motored 13+hr days for 5 days stopping at small islands with the average population of 150 to 5,000
We ran into the Osaka Yakuza (mafia), disgruntled knife wielding fisherman on 60′ fishing boats, gracious wonderful citizens who were curious about the foreigners on a small sailing yacht, generous farmers, mad drivers, and shop keepers who apologized for not having bread in stock. Mostly friendly locals who wanted to give us a ride or offered food.  A 90 year lady cleaned new bamboo shoots and was off to the market.




We were on a tight schedule to make it to Nagasaki marina for our scheduled haul out. Weather wasn’t helping the schedule. We endured a big storm on our way to Iwo Jima, grateful to be tied up in the worst of it. We spent 10 days in the Nagasaki Sunset marina painting Konami’s bottom and routine maintenance. Our Australian cruising friends on SV Dione from Micronesia were there also. Afterwards spent 3 days sightseeing before moving North.
Nagasaki, the second site of the WW2 devastating A bomb was very moving and heart wrenching. Displays of cranes and peace for the future, and written pleads to all nations to end all war.

June 2017
We continued along the west coast of Kyushu stopping in remote villages and mega city Fukuoka before entering the Kanmo Kaikyo strait. This relatively narrow passage between Kyushu and mainland Honshu is crowded with cargo ships, freighters and tugs, and fishing boats. The current can run at 6-8 kts at the peak so timing of the 10 nautical mile passage was critical. It was thankfully uneventful but interesting to watch it all go by.

June 2017 through the Seto Nakai
The inland sea was fantastic. More than 3,000 small islands, some uninhabited other than  a small flshing dock, some with shrines, museums, and temples. Motored all of it, through narrow straights with rushing currents, fish traps and farms, cargo vessels, fishing boats trolling giant nets stretched in our path. Beautiful water gradually turned green with bits of trash everywhere. We rushed to arrive in Osaka to catch a flight to Busan, Korea to renew our 90 day visa.  By June 20 Konami was tied to her summer home in a small inland boat harbor filled with a small fishing fleet, dirty water that made us cringe,still does, and giant steel manufacturing plants. Ok, its cheap that’s why.  $950/month vs $350/month with no amenities to speak of but its closer to my family in Kyoto and Osaka. Good bye clear  blue water!
July 2017
A much needed down time with my mom, sister and niece from the States. We spent 2 wonderful weeks with a family reunion with our large Japanese family.  We had a terrific time sightseeing in Kyoto before my family departed back to the States.
10 days after they departed Japan we got the distressing news of Mom’s fall needing a hip replacement. I flew back to Oregon and spent 4 months with my parents. John stayed on for 7 weeks in Japan to secure the boat for typhoon season.
August – November 2017
 Most of our time was spent tending to my frail parents,  short precious time with our sons and families, met 3 new grandchildren, and  a few short hours with siblings and good friends where ever we could meet up.  We ate everything we had missed in the 22 months being away. All the fresh fruits and veggies, ice cream, pizza, great Oregon craft beers, chocolate and wine.
Culture shock had set in too. We experienced depression, insomnia, boat separation anxiety, overwhelmed with land living and responsibilities. Everywhere  outside conversations  invaded our heads. When you’ve been away for long periods of time where you don’t hear your native language you automatically tune out all language and conversations. Then, all of a sudden its like someone turned on the incessant noisy TV.
December 8, 2017
We gave families and friends hugs, well wishes and returned to lonely Konami just in time for winter. We spent a week stowing new boat gear, airing out winter clothing, and packing up summer gear. Got out our trusty folding bikes and got back into our routine of just 2 people talking, quiet boat, coin laundry, crowded streets, walking 3 blocks to the toilet and decrepit shower stall. John had to move Konami to the outer area of the marina before he left Japan so wifi wasn’t available unless we walked to the marina office and sat in the unheated building.
My Japanese girlfriend, Kimiko sent us 2 down comforters with sheets and a puffy down jacket from Tokyo and the package was waiting for us they day we arrived from the airport. Kimiko saved us as we had no blankets on board. We came from the tropics remember?
Winter is miserable here, fortunately we have a diesel heater in the engine room that blows toasty 70 degree heat. We didn’t remove the webasto heater, John was adamant about bringing it with us. Smart guy!
Christmas and New Year 2017
We spent Christmas eve sailing in the local yacht race with friends on their boat. Cold and slow but it was nice to be out sailing. The party afterwards was enjoyable with the local yachties. There was Santa Claus too though we must’ve been bad this year as we sadly didn’t receive any presents.
Kimiko saved us again and invited us to spend Christmas break with her and her husband, Koichi. A vacation!!  Warm beds, hot shower and bath, flushing singing toilet, incredible food – she is a wonderful cook by the way. Great shopping and sightseeing in the Tokyo area. Lots of beautiful shrines and prayers.
New Year celebration is beyond a normal holiday. 7 days of eating traditional foods that bring happiness, health, good fortune, family closeness,  and mean hangovers.
We had exceptionally good weather while in Tokyo. Sunny, cold wind but lots of nice winter clothing. We had a very memorable New Year celebration, something I always wanted to experience.
January 2018
Back in the groove of boat living, watching old recorded TV shows, cuddling with our blankets as the wind howls outside. We’ve  had snow flurries, very  little rain, lots sunny freezing days.  Diesel is around $5/gal and the heater burns about a half gallon /day so we bought a small watt electric heater to help. We also bought an electric waterpot and small stovetop butane burner to help offset the cost of propane. A 20 pound tank of propane is $48, expensive.  Coin laundry is about $15 for 2 loads. With the heavy clothing its costing a little more than summer wear. Food is our biggest expense. We spend about $150/week, not including meals out. We don’t eat a lot of meat either. Train tickets are outrageous, a trip to the big grocery store is $3/per person so we ride our bikes as much as possible.
We plan on doing more sightseeing, though February is supposedly the coldest month of the year. Great, as if it hasn’t been cold enough. But we are down to just a few months before we leave Japan so land travelling all bundled up.