Friday, November 30, 2012

Three Ways for a Foreigner to be Thought Amazing in Japan

1.    Eat with chopsticks

2.    Eat raw fish

3.    Go to the onsen

Yesterday, I was told I was sugoi (amazing) because I’m not Japanese and I can eat raw fish with chopsticks and I can go to the onsen.

Let me back up a little bit so I can tell you the whole story. Even though I’ve been here almost a year, most of the time I have no idea what is going on until afterwards and even then, I’m still not sure. After hula class last week, I was invited to go to the onsen and lunch with one of my class mates and I thought a couple of other hula ladies. (It turned out to be two people I didn't know but who wanted to meet me).  I said yes and she said she would email me about the day and time.  She emailed asking if Thursday was okay, she could pick me up at 10:40 am and I said yes. She replied, reminding me to bring lunch money and underwear.  I’m not sure if she thought I would come without underwear or if she meant another word. Sometimes things get lost in translation, but I thanked her for the reminder and did bring lunch money and my underwear.

She picked me up at 10:40 am yesterday and the other two met us there. Even though I told her I had been to onsens before, she wanted to make sure I knew that people are naked and without clothes in the onsen. Yes, I understood. Most people here think foreigners won’t go to the onsen, and while it is true I haven’t seen another foreigner when I’ve been at the onsen, not every foreigner is uncomfortable going.  While soaking naked in a pool of hot water with a bunch of other people isn’t part of American culture, I’m not against it.  If I didn’t want any new experiences, I wouldn’t have come to Japan.

This place was nicer than any of the others I’ve been to. They give you two brown towels and a set of brown “onsen wear” (kind of like thin pajamas) in a bag with your locker key. I looked in the bag before we left the desk and was glad I did.  The onsen wear in my bag was about three inches square – not big enough for someone as maru as I am.  I was able to trade for a larger set.

There was a restaurant and several lounging rooms with televisions and paperback books and low tables and recliners.  If you get too hot in the onsen, you can put on your onsen wear and eat or relax for a while, then go back in the water later. There was nice shampoo and conditioner and body wash in the washing area and hair dryers and combs and light up make up mirrors in the dressing area.

Inside there was a regular pool (42 degrees C), a “medicine” pool, which I think was some kind of minerals not medicine (39.5 degrees C), a Jacuzzi pool (41 or 42 C), and a cool pool (20 C), plus a sauna (47 C).  The sauna was too hot for me. We tried all the indoor pools but spent most of our time in the outside pools (42 C) where there was snow on the ground and a cold wind blowing.

After several hours of soaking in the hot water, we got out and had lunch, then spent several more hours trying to talk. I was the one trying; they knew what each other were saying.  I don’t think people in this area of Hokkaido have a lot of interaction with foreigners because I always feel like they think I am a celebrity. I’m asked a lot of questions about myself and life in the US. It’s very flattering and even though I can eat raw fish and am able to use chopsticks and go to the onsen, I’m not really amazing.

I got home around five pm and had a very good time. I didn't know I'd be gone all day, but that's how things go here.  

Here is another gift ornament. I used this green fabric for the backing.  Maki sushi isn’t the usual Christmas scene, but this is for someone who used to live in Japan.

1 comment:

  1. As you say new experiences in a new country. I still don't understand why people spend all day in onsen but, like you, I don't mind them and in the winter the "warm to the bones" effect is most welcome. Quite relaxing really. Have a good day.