Yesterday I came close to being boiled alive at Yonotsu Onsen, a small public bath house in a historic onsen town.
I’ve visited several onsens over the years. They’re wonderful. Once you get over your own self-consciousness at being naked in front of strangers, it’s a great place to take the waters, relax and become Clean Clear Through.
It’s easy to take your behavioral cues from Japanese women. Women of all ages disrobe, wash and bathe together as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. When you’re brought up in this culture, it is!
The bathing ritual goes as follows;
a. Undress and store your clothes and towel in a basket or locker.
b. Walk casually into the bath to find a low stool which you sit down to
c. Wash your body as it’s never been washed before.
d. When you are certain every single solitary square inch of you is clean, rinse yourself off very well, and
e. Casually walk over to the communal bath to soak with the other guests in the peaceful and congenial atmosphere.
Yonotsu Onsen has a small, unattractive, mineral laden natural hot spring bath, reputed to be of very high quality.
I sensed this spot was unlikely to provoke a long luxurious soak. Little did I realize just how brief it would be.
I came very close to screaming from the moment the searing water touched my well scrubbed skin. My face must have registered my dismay, because the young woman who sat across from me began to laugh at my expression and gleefully pronounced, “atsui!” (hot) I smiled weakly and repeated, “atsui!”
The only way to save myself was to beat a hasty retreat. I forced myself to linger for a few minutes with only my feet in the water, thinking it might become tolerable. Wrong! I quickly and shamelessly fled to the safety of the dressing room.
I imagined that in the days when Americans and Japanese were enemies, I might have been lured into the bath as easily as a lobster is thrown in a pot and then quickly cooked alive.
Fortunately, I escaped to bathe another day.