Sweet on sentoo

Write about bathing.

January 6 prompt, “A Writer’s Book of Days”

Hot. Scalding hot. Cold feet refuse at first. “I’m not going in there! OUCH! Ouch! ouch! ouch! OUUUUUCHHHH! Ahhhhhhhhhh ………..”

Toes unwind from this curled grip of refusal and discomfort and shock. The soles surrender, having taken the lead from the toes. Toes are like soldiers on the front line. Where they go, others follow. Only after they go do balls of feet and soles and heels follow.

Steaming water moves up — slowly or quickly, depending on how you want to play it. Ankles to knees. “Think I’ll pause there for a moment. Okay, ready. Continue.”

Knees to upper thighs. Hot water rises or falls according to my comfort and pace of entry. “A life measured in coffee spoons” springs to mind. I measure my life by water and her levels. Dark and deep deep deep. Or shallow wading pool. And all levels between. Been to each. Swum within each.

Life expressed in a sentoo. The communal Japanese bathhouse. Who woulda guessed?!

Flesh reddens. Once the body adjusts to a given water temperature, I’m in. The remaining entry’s a slide in.

I sit quickly. My behind finds the usually tiled seat built into the sentoo. By touch and reason in a landscape of visuals obscured by foaming rumbling waters shot from jets. Those are the fancier sentoo. The older traditional sentoo have comparatively weak jets if they’ve got ’em at all!

I’m seated in a tub, round, and the water’s hot. Around 104 degrees (40 C),  isn’t that the standard temp? Water rides up my back. Engulfs my entire upper torso to the neck. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I slacken into a slouch while keeping head out of the water. It’s how the Japanese do it. What they do. Baths are not for heads-dunking. Discourteous. Mannerless. Gross. Yuck. Neither are the baths for shampooing or soaping. They’re for relaxing. Unwinding. Letting the cares of the world and your life drain away into the steaming water. No worries, the water can take it.

sentoo towelTimes I’ve set the small folded towel — traditionally white, surely a reason for that  — on my head while resting in the bath. Like the Japanese do. Like a terrycloth yamaka. Charming and practical for retaining body heat. Especially helpful to cleansing the body of toxins, that heat from the water and trapped by that terrycloth yamaka.

When it comes to baths, the Japanese know what they’re doing. And they do it better than anyone.

I’m a waterbaby. The best baths I’ve ever taken in the whole of my 57 years were during my 10+ years in Japan. (No relation to the military, always the first question asked.)

And of those, some of the absolute best were during summer. Sultry sweaty summers of suffocating humidity and blazing heat generated and trapped by Tokyo’s skyscrapers, metro congestion, vehicles and tight quarters.

The plusses and temptations of sentoo in winter are obvious. Seems counterintuitive that sentoo in summer would be the best! Seems like the last place you’d want to be, up to your neck in scalding water, maybe with a terrycloth yamaka resting atop your head.

Au contraire! Comes back to deep cleansing and relaxation. Hot water drawing out toxins and stresses. Believe you me, the stresses of summertime in Tokyo are extraordinary! Extreme. The driving humidity and natural heat and added reflected heat from the metro environment. Hey, some 12 million people crammed onto a pinhead’s tough in summer or winter!

When a Sapporo {beer} doesn’t entirely cut it, sentoo to the rescue!

I miss sentoo. Onsen (hot springs) too. Miss them dearly, deeply, profoundly, intimately.

Funny thing. A couple nights ago, I dreamt I was back in Japan. Not to visit but to live. An interesting dream, one in which a former lover appeared. Still wondering what it all meant.

As for sentoo, you’ll chuckle over my solution for my tubless studio. {I know! I know! A living space sans tub, what issss she thinking?!? haha} I can McGyver anything. My bathroom’s the size of a little closet. Turn and watch the wall! Toilet. Sink with cupboard. Cabinet mirror. Tiny shower tiled in cotton-candy pink. Like a 1950s motel. It’s a hoot!

Back to sentoo and my tubless studio. Waterbaby that I am, living sans tub: not an option. My solution: a 25-gallon plastic tote bin. Often used for storing blankets, Christmas decorations, toys. Since I’m here, I’ll toss in a pic:

my tub

my tub

Turning that into a bathtub, that’s a whole other project and story! Bathing in it – ditto. Perhaps for once in my life I’m glad I’m short and petite! Plus I don’t call myself origami girl for nuthin’ is all I’ll say on that!

Sentoo. My beloved sentoo. I miss you as I miss all things traditional and real in Japan. You were one hot sweetheart! Always there for me through thick and thin, ups and downs, joys and traumas, celebrations and losses, violence and healing. There through the good and bad, the ugly and the beautiful and all things life in Japan.

Dear sentoo, I remove my terrycloth yamaka and salute you.

Hai hai 銭湯!


4 thoughts on “Sweet on sentoo

  1. @livingonchi – Sentoo aren’t for everyone. Matter of fact, many “modernized” or young Japanese don’t like them/don’t go, thinking them old-fashioned and/or preferring their modern private tubs at home. Sad. Don’t know what they’re missing. 🙂

  2. Never heard of the yamaka, I have to admit I do enjoy a good soak myself (an habit I have renewed since moving last summer), There’s something oddly peaceful in being in hot water with nary a sound…

  3. @longeye – Yamaka, aka yarmulkes, small round cap worn by Jewish males. Nothing *oddly* peaceful about being in hot water with nary a sound, methinks; superbly peaceful! 🙂 Of course, sentoo with the bubbly water, sit-down showers off to the sides, yammering amongst the locals could rarely be called an oasis of silence. However, onsen (hot springs) alongside the sea, in the mountains, the snow — quite serene indeed.

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