Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My First Public Bath - Atsui!

This is a true story that happened when I was 15 yeas old and spent the summer in Japan. My host brother and I took a trip to Hiroshima and stayed in a hotel with his great aunt and uncle, who spoke no English. I only knew a couple phrases of Japanese. At the hotel, my host brother told me that we were going to the baths. Luckily, there were separate baths for men and women.

The Aunt and I went into the public bath room. Two women were already sitting in the bath, which was about the size of a cubical. Opposite the bath was a wall of shower heads similar to what you'd see in a swimming pool locker room. Only no one was wearing swimming suits. By watching The Aunt, I figured out that we needed to take showers before getting into the bath to enjoy a good soak. I kept my eyes carefully fixed on the wall in front of me while I took a shower. Suddenly, I felt something on my back! It was a scrubbing brush! The Aunt was scrubbing my back with a scrubbing brush! I stood very still and tried not to panic. When she was finished, I politely bowed and said thank you in Japanese. I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable, which is ironic because that was the most uncomfortable I'd ever been in my life. She smiled and then held the brush to me, inviting me to scrub her back. I was left with only one option...scrub! The Aunt was extremely short and round. I was mortified. She indicated that I was not scrubbing hard enough. I really did try to do my best.

Finally, The Aunt motioned to the bath. I was incredibly relieved to have made it through the shower process. The Aunt slipped into the bath and sat down in the water up to her chin. I put one foot in the water and yanked it back. I have never, never, never felt water that hot! I knew I must somehow get into that bath. There was no other choice. I blocked out the burning pain, and got one leg in. Now I was standing with one leg out of the water. Not good. My leg was burning, but I took a deep breath and pulled the other leg in. Tears leaked. My heart pounded. Every instinct said to get away from the water. Even though I couldn't speak their language, The Aunt and two polite strangers knew I was in a pickle. I tried to make a joke of it and said "Atsui", which means "it's hot" in Japanese. Then I covered my mouth and giggled, just like they do.

There I was, a 15 year old American girl, standing thigh-high in a near-boiling bath, facing three Japanese women, and physically unable to sit down. Believe me, I did not want to be standing there like that, so I was trying pretty hard to get in that water. After several attempts, a few covered-mouth giggles and a couple atsui's, The Aunt showed mercy, and we left. I looked down and saw that my legs were burnt bright red like a sunburn where they had been in the water. Atsui!

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