Onsen, communal hot baths, are another part of the Japan Experience and to be honest I wish they weren’t. Possibly this is because I’m British and we don’t do that sort f thing, but also the idea of showering in public brings back memories of school after rugby lessons with thirty adolescent boys and the creepy games teacher making sure you were all undressed.
And while I’m on the subject, was I in the only school where you always came back from sports late enough for the bell for the next lesson to ring as we arrived at the changing rooms? It left you with two problems, firstly that you were going to be at least ten minutes late for Geography, and secondly that half the school would be wandering past the changing rooms just as you came out of the shower. Of course there was no frosted glass on the windows, and nor would the door be closed, and naturally the boys changing rooms were the ones facing the other classrooms.
Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, an Onsen in the mountains, at the end of a long hot day.
This onsen is unisex: the gentlemen had use of it from four to six, and the ladies from six to eight. So you had to move if you arrived after half past five. Of course it was after half past five.
The showers in these places are often a push rather than turn arrangement, so people don’t leave them on I guess. This is all very well, but you know it’s going to stop when you’ve got soap in your hair. Try to do this quicker: press button, soap hair: water stops. Hands are in use holding soap out of eyes so wave foot about until find button. Stamp on button. Finish shower in 3 minutes, start to dry off. Hear unmistakable sound of old ladies voices getting nearer, grab clothes, haul up trou’.* door opens. Elderly Japanese ladies peer in. Door closes.
Escape, damp but with modesty intact.
Next day, discover gents showers around corner.
*Also known as ‘pants’.