Monday, May 29, 2006

konichiwa from Japan

This post is coming straight at you from a cubicle in a very cushy Tokyo internet cafe. I'm sitting in a black leather chair in front of a flatscreen display, sipping free green tea. On the cubicle wall is a room service (cubicle service) menu of soba and fish-shaped cookies. (pic coming later)

Japan is endearing.

Yesterday our tour group stayed at a beachside hotel in Akao, cut into the face of a cliff. The lobby is on the 17th floor, and the bottom floor has two large mineral baths from natural hot springs.

It is customary to bathe in the mineral springs and then walk around the hotel clad in Japanese robe and slippers (random web pic below, real pic coming later). I of course relished it. If only Google would allow me to go to work like this!

The mineral springs are communal baths, separated by gender. Along the wall is a line of showers for bathers to wash themselves clean before entering the mineral bath. You must go in naked -- swimsuits are not allowed.

Many of my male readers are probably now imagining a stereotypical fantasy of nubile Japanese women wading into the mineral bath, beads of water glistening on their taut skin, as they send ripples in the bath that lap gently against each other's bodies.

Well, I'm here to tell you that this is exactly how it was.

(no pics coming later)

The hotel supplies a plethora of shampoos and soaps made of charcoal, oranges, and various vitamins. The recommended way of using the mineral bath is to wash off in the shower off to the side, submerge in the mineral bath for 2 minutes, come out and cool off, submerge for 5 minutes, cool off, then submerge for 7 minutes. I repeated this entire process 3 times during my overnight hotel stay. There was not much to do during the 9 washing / cooling periods except to test out all the shampoos, body washes, skin exfoliants, and pumices.

Today -- May 30, 2006 -- is the cleanest that my skin and hair have ever been.

Emerging from the mineral bath, I discovered that in my Japanese robe with my hair pinned up, I look quintessentially Japanese. It is so striking that when I went next door to my parents' hotel room, my dad turned to my mom and asked, "How did we end up giving birth to a Japanese daughter?"

This has an unfortunate effect that all the hotel staff confidently speak Japanese to me. The only Japanese I know is "arigato" (thank you), "hai!" (yes!) and "sayonara" (goodbye). The last one is pretty useless, so I end up just conforming the first two to use in every situation. I attempt to compensate by bowing deeply every other sentence.

Hotel staff: [in Japanese] Miss, do you prefer coffee or tea?

Me: Arigato. [bow deeply]

Hotel staff: [still in Japanese] Which one, miss?

Me: Hai.

This morning after my mineral bath, I decided to take the stairs from the first floor up to the 17th floor to go to breakfast, since there is no gym in the hotel. Just as I passed the 15th floor, the door on the next landing opened, and a pink uniformed hotel maid came in.

Me: [breathlessly clambering up the steps]

Hotel Maid: [long stream of Japanese]

Me: Hai. [continue climbing stairs]

I emerged onto the 17th floor to find that ... the breakfast room is actually on the second floor.