Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hot Water and Nudity

So I hung out over at the Yamane household for a while. When I got there, Young Yamane #1 (Age 2) was being grumpy, so it was entertaining watching Hiroshi be a dad.

Between the seeing the Yamane kids and Dustin v2.0 Presley, I don't know if I ever want to have children.

Yipes.

Best kind of birth control out there. I'm serious. Go and visit a family that has a child anywhere from newborn to age 3, and you will seriously consider lifelong abstinence. Or at least a chastity belt.

See, Mrs. Yamane was out getting a massage, so Hiroshi was taking over the parenting chores. At least he realizes how tough it is for his wife. "I don't know how she can do this all day."

Hey, don't look at me. I don't know either.

We had okonomiyaki for dinner. This qualifies as good Japanese cuisine. Excellent stuff.

After chatting for a while more, Young Yamane Nos. 1 & 2 were showing signs of sleepiness, so I decided to head out. They wished me a safe trip home, and I headed to the car.

I checked my cell phone. 7:30, huh? The pool's open until 9. I could get in some swim time...hmmm...alright, let's go!

I brave the frozen roads out to the pool, only to find that...

(cue dramatic music)

...the pool was closed.

Bummer.

So, did I do the smart thing and turn around and head straight back home? At first, I did. But when I got to the road where turning left would take me home, and turning right would take me way up into the mountains, I turned, you guessed it, right.

Why?

Because way up in said mountains is Noboribetsu Hot Springs (click on "Noboribetsu hot springs Profile).

There's nothing quite like climbing into a pool of hot water filled with other naked men.

Ummm...

That didn't quite come out the way I wanted to.

Let's try that again. Dustin's Hot Springs Statement, Take 2.

There's nothing quite like climbing into a hot springs bath on a cold winter evening.

That's better. No questions about sexual orientation implied in it either.

For about the first six months I spent in Japan, I refused to go to any hot springs or public baths.

Why?

Because it's a pool filled with lots of naked men! That's just weird. And uncomfortable.

Then the damp, cold Shimane winter wore me down until one day, when a friend invited me to go to a local hot spring, I said, "Yes."

Funny thing about hot springs here. I take off my glasses, and since I can't see anything, it doesn't bother me. You know, being around a lot of other naked men. I just ignore everybody else and enjoy my bath.

Upon making that discovery my first time out, I became an avid hot spring partaker.

There are hot springs all over the place in Japan. It makes traveling so much easier. I've gone on many a road trip since I've been here, and the best way to save money is to just sleep in your car. Hotels are ridiculously expensive.

But if you stay in your car, don't you get stinky? Or even STANKY?

Not if you hop in a bath at a hot spring. Since most hot springs either have large signs pointing the way or are listed on road maps, all you have to do is find one that's open before you find the rest area where you're going to sleep that night.

I've been to hot springs all over the place. Beppu Hot Springs and Ibusuki Sand Bath Hot Springs in Kyushu, Ryujin Hot Springs (third picture down) in Wakayama (good place, eh Dave?), Kinugawa Hot Springs in Tochigi, Dogo Hot Springs in Matsuyama and many more places all around the country. Hot springs are quite nice.

They do take a bit of getting used to, though. The being naked around many other naked people is merely the first step.

There's the old cleaning ladies who come in to the dressing room, or into the baths, to clean, without so much as a pardon-me or a never-you-mind. You're standing there in only what God gave you, either drying off or getting ready to hop in the bath, when LOOK OUT!

Old lady, walking around the men's changing room.

In a panic, you grab whatever you can find to "cover up".

Everybody else goes about their business like nothing even happened. Quite bizarre.

Then there's the guys who hack and snort and cough and spit out loogies or farmer snot.

There's also the odd time when a complete (and naked) stranger tries to strike up a conversation.

How do you handle that?

But there's also the really cool experience of sitting in an outdoor hot spring while it's raining, or even better, snowing. The mix of hot and cold is invigorating.

Hot springs are always nice and relaxing, and you feel darn good afterwards.

Right, Dad?

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The first hot spring I ever visited wasn't even in Japan. It was Lava Hot Springs, in Idaho.
My Grandma and Grandpa Nelson lived in Lava. Back when we were living in Pocatello, it was only about an hour or so up to Lava, so we would go up quite often to visit them on the farm.
Grandpa would let me pretend to shave with his foam lather brush.
I had a pet duck called Jack Olsen. He would ride around on my shoulder when I walked around the farm.
There was a tire swing.
Mom would always point out the "deer" on the hillside overlooking the farm. When she was young, she had bad eyesight, and she would look out on the hills and see these shapes she thought were deer. Turns out, after she got glasses, they were just big rocks. I guess that might be why she's always so excited when we see real deer now.
And often, we would all go over to Lava Hot Springs and swim. In our swimming trunks, of course.
Which is why the whole "hot springs = naked" mentality over here really threw me.
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Noboribetsu Hot Springs has a lot of sulfur in the water. you have to be careful about what clothes you take there, because the smell will stick, no matter how well you dry off.
But it really warms you up.
As I was getting dressed afterwards, an older Japanese man came over and started talking to me.
He was naked. Naturally.
Naked Man: "Where're ya from?"
Me: "The U.S."
NM: "Where d'ya live?"
Me: "Over in Muroran."
NM: "Been in Japan long?"
Me: "I've been in Muroran only since August, but I've lived in Japan for six years now."
NM: "That explains why you Japanese is so good. What part of the U.S. are you from?"
Me: "Oregon."
NM: "Many mountains there?"
Me: "Yeah, you could say that."
NM: "Where'd you live before you came to Hokkaido? Tokyo?"
Me: "Nope. Shimane."
NM: "Shimane? Oh yeah, I've been there before?"
Me: "Really? Where did you go?"
NM: "Yonago."
Umm, what? Yonago? I hate to break this to ya, buddy, but Yonago's not in Shimane. It's in Tottori.
Man, I hate it when people can't keep Shimane and Tottori straight.
Here's an example:
"Hey Dustin, how's your exchange at Tottori University going?"
"I wouldn't know, as I'm going to SHIMANE UNIVERSITY!"
And another:
"Shimane...that's the place with the sand dunes, right?"
"Well, except for the fact that it's called the TOTTORI SAND DUNES, you're right on the mark."
So I talk with Naked Man for a bit more, until...
NM: "You ever ride horses?"
Huh?
Me: "Umm, yeah. We used to own a couple horses."
NM: "I just have this image that all Americans can ride horses."
Me: "Not all of us, but quite a few."
Turns out, the guy runs a horseback riding/snowmobiling company (Japanese only, sorry) in Noboribetsu.
This week, he's got a group of about 20 tourists coming over from Malaysia to ride snowmobiles. Should be interesting, what with the entire lack of snow in Malaysia. Wish I could be there to see it.
But snowmobiling sounds like fun. I might just have to go check it out this winter.

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