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"From the shower, you go right for a little bucket with a hole in the center. This is actually a seat. The hole is so you can fart."
- Ryan Roling

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A trip to the Japanese bath house
by Ryan Roling, 25, Asahikiwa, Japan
Mar 26, 2000

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Yesterday, for the first time I experienced the Japanese public bath. I didn't`t really have plans for the afternoon so I thought I would broaden my experience base. I went to a nearby bath house and said, "Sumimasen, hajimete." (Excuse me this is my first time.. and I am clueless)

"Hai, 360 yen", he said, and pointed me in the direction I needed to go. I thought it would be like a big swimming pool, with the small difference being the fact that everyone would be naked. At this particular tub, men and women are separate, which I knew beforehand but figured it was still worth going to. I had no clue as to what was going to happen, or what I was to do once I got there, so I went with my observation eyes open.

First, you go in and take your clothes off in a "basketroom". It is very similar to a locker room, but with baskets on shelves instead. Then you put your clothes into the basket. You can keep your wallet in your pants pocket, right there in an unlocked basket and not have to worry. Nobody is going to even think about taking it, let alone actually take it (this mentality all ties into rice, see my article called "Rice is Japan").

From there, you go in and take a shower with about 4 or 10 different heads pointed in your direction. I say 4 or 10 because 4 of them are shower heads, the other heads are belonging to those in the bathroom already, and being a foreigner you get special attention. From the shower, you go right for a little bucket with a hole in the center. This is actually a seat. The hole is so you can fart. You also grab another little bucket used to scoop water out of the first of 5 different tubs. That is, unless you're a clueless "gaijin" (gaijin is literally translated as 'outsider' but is closer in connotation to our use of the word 'foreigner').

After you scoop the water into the bucket, you raise it over your head and wet yourself- in the sense of water coming down, not out. Then you take your bucket with the fart hole, your soap, shampoo, razor, shaving cream, wash towel, and your small scooper-bucket, and sit down in the center of the room where there are shower heads about 4 feet apart. But, if you're a clueless gaijin, you only bring soap 'cause you don't even have a wash towel and didn't know to bring the other stuff, including the extra bucket, because when you walked into the room and saw the two buckets to choose from, that what you thought it was: a choice. So, being clueless, you only grabbed one, this being the fart-hole bucket.

Nevertheless, there you are sitting down on a small bucket, buck naked, with a bunch of other guys sitting on their buckets, naked. You turn on the shower and soap up. The great thing about this is you can watch yourself, as they have a long mirror placed right in front of you. And, out of the corner of your eye you can check out the (the size of the) guy next to you and notice that he is doing the same thing out of the corner of his eye. Did you ever wonder if most Japanese men are circumcised? I used to, but I don`t anymore. The knowledge of that alone was worth my 360 yen.

Anyway, you scrub down at the shower. You must scrub down very well, because you don`t want to get into the bath tub dirty! No way. The Japanese are far too clean for that. Imagine, getting up from your Sunday afternoon nap, hopping into your car or onto your bike to go to the public bath only to sit in dirty butt water! Gross. No, this water and the 500 guys' butts who sit in it are clean, by golly!

So, you scrub down, which for me usually takes one minute, but noticing that everyone was taking their time I stretched it out to about 5 minutes. My face has never been washed so many times in one sitting, but I didn't know what to do. Next, you hop into the tub. This is where I truly learned that if you ever go to a public bath, make sure you have plenty of time. The guy two buckets down from me knew that already. He scrubbed himself for about 15 minutes and in watching him, I learned of new arm positions you can use to clean your back that I would have never thought of. Man, was he ever clean!

And the drama continues..

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