Community Bath



 Oddly perhaps, this woodland scene reminded me of living in Tokyo.

 Like most apartments in the 1980s, my "aparto" did not have a shower or bathtub, so each evening I'd go to the community bathhouse, called a "sento," where, like this tanager, I would bathe and emerge clean, if a bit ruffled, before my neighbors.

Once I overcame my Western discomfort at being naked in a foreign language--the discomfort lasting maybe all of ten minutes--I was able to relax and settle into the wet, steamy ambiance and nude neighborly camaraderie of the bathhouse.


One left one's shoes outside, along with dozens of other pairs at the entrance, entering the bathhouse, males through the door on the right, females through the door on the left. There was no worry about one's shoes being stolen. This was Japan. I left my apartment unlocked for the same reason. Why bother?


One stepped into a warm, immaculately clean locker room. Glass doors at the other end of the room opened onto the bathing area; rows of faucets ran along the walls where one washed, shampooed, and rinsed thoroughly before relaxing in one of several large baths. The baths were set at different temperatures, the mildest being slightly below scalding.


And here each night I observed Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man: the ancient, withered little o-jisans (“honorable grandfathers”), the middle-aged husbands, the young men, the teenage boys just coming into their hair, down to the youngest boys, and infants, who fathers would sometimes bring with them, giving their wives a break.



Here, too, one encountered the happy tipsy giggly little Salarymen (office workers) stumbling back to their neighborhoods after an evening of eating, drinking and making merry with their male colleagues. Felicitously intoxicated, they’d shed their dark blue suits and careened around the slippery area, catching up with their neighbors on the day's news or sports or local gossip as they soaped and soaked together.


Invariably, some were eager to practice their night school English on me--"Ah, goot evenink, Mr. A'ran. How-are-you? I-am-fine. Shank you"--which frequently was the extent of our conversations. Still, it was more of a conversation than I could manage in their language. All were courteous and friendly, and, though a gaijin (foreigner,) I always felt welcomed as part of the neighborhood.


This custom of bathing with one's neighbors struck me as eminently civilized and sensible, and years later I would warmly recall and record these experiences in Tales of Tokyo. I built the sensual ambiance and camaraderie of the Japanese bathhouse into the community life of my utopian novel, The Island (still unpublished.)

 Anyway, that's what this bird bath scene reminded me of this morning...



 [First posted: August 4, 2015]