South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Turning Japanese, I really think so.
Date: June 5, 1995 13:31

00:11 Wellness Center Chojumara; Narita-Japan :: 3 JUN 95

The first impression of Japan: My god, I'm going to lose my shirt! The Canadian $ ain't worth a plugged nickel here. At the airport the exchange rate for traveler's cheques was in the mid 60s. For notes, in the low 50s. The gap between US notes and cheques was the more typical 3% or so. Anyway, my $100 US cheque earned me 8,371 ¥. That was at 20:00. By 21:30 I'd depleted that to just over 4,000 ¥. All I'd done is take a 10-minute train ride from the airport to Narita (240 ¥); pay for my accommodation (3,000 ¥); and eat a light meal (830 ¥), and bought a 500ml can of Coca Cola from a vending machine (110 ¥). Total: 4180 ¥ = $49.93 US. A friendly Japanese high-school student bought me dessert or it might have been more. But perhaps I should explain what kind of accommodation I'm paying $35.83 US for.

A 'wellness center' is something like a western 'fitness center'. Well, it has a locker room, and common baths; massage is available; there are video games and pochinko-the Japanese equivalent of Vegas-style slots or Aussie 'pokies'. Lonely in a corner sits a single stair climbing machine. There are also rooms available if you've to 7,000 ¥ plus to blow on it. Right now I'm sitting in a coin operated 'massage chair', because it's next to a power point. I'm wearing the regulation pajama-like tacky-tourist top and shorts handed out as strip. Later, I'll lie down on one of the mattresses and try to catch a few winks. I'll try and find one that is equidistant from the Godzilla game (it periodically cries out in that characteristic Godzilla screech) and the television (whose volume is set high enough to compete with the jingling and musical 'come hithers' emanating from the video games). It's going to be like sleeping in a video arcade.

Still, I do get to use all the facilities, though there's a 3,800 ¥ surcharge for a 40 minute session with a masseuse. And I'm not the least-bit uncomfortable with the notion that female attendants walk through the men's locker rooms and baths. Actually, they stop and carry on conversations with the men whose towels ineffectively cover their bodies. I would prefer it if these attendants were less matronly. . .

Anyway, I've spent $50 US in just a few hours after arriving in Japan. Just before departing Malaysia I talked to a Canadian who'd come through Japan. In a little more than 3 days he'd spent nearly $400 CDN. He stayed with friends and so paid nothing for his bed and spent little on food. I have neither of these advantages. I hear my bank account whimper every time I reach into the wallet.

Second impressions are more positive. Remember drab, shabby and haphazard? Try bright, scrubbed and organised. What a contrast to the last three months. One of the most striking aspects, though it takes a while to recognize it, the quiet. No horns, no scooters, no decrepit buses and trucks badly in need of mufflers. When you walk out of the train station it is without the barrage of cabbies trying to lure you from the taxi queue. While storm drains are similar to those of other Asian countries, deep trenches covered by removable concrete blocks, there is no accompanying smell of rotting matter. In fact, other than the wafting essence of the odd kitchen there hardly seems to be any scent.

9:35 Narita Station; Narita-Japan :: 3 JUN 95

Let me describe bathing Japanese style. Imagine a row of low bassinets, about knee-level, each missing only the basin. On the small stool in front of each bassinet is a bowl, pick one up and have a seat. Fill the bowl from the tap or reservoir above the bassinet and ladle the water over your tired body. Sometimes a hose and shower-head is available; use that if you prefer. On the counter you find a tray holding soap, shampoo, conditioner. Lather up and wash away your troubles. Take your time. Be thorough.

Feel better? After washing you can now enter the bath. A wellness center is more like a spa so choose amongst the still baths, Jacuzzis, steam baths, sauna, mineral baths and the chilling 'cool dip'. Soak away your troubles. Take your time. Be thorough.

Feel better? While toweling off you'll find a room set aside for primping. A long curving vanity serving several stools, have a seat. Brushes are in the heat sterilizer. After shave, cotton swabs, cologne, skin emollients, hair spray and blow-dryers await in the tray before you. Making yourself pretty makes facing those troubles easier. Take your time. Be thorough.

22:39 Ryokan Hiraiwa; Kyoto-Japan :: 3 JUN 95

More about wellness centers. See, after logging off last night I reconnoitered a little more thoroughly.

On the second floor I find a tatami floored restaurant (tatami is woven straw) with those characteristic coffee tables the Japanese dine on. You sit on the floor, a small cushion the only thing separating your gangly western legs from the hard straw floor. Also on the second floor, rows of comfortably padded recliners facing a large TV. Many people chose to doze off here, in front of the telly.

On the third floor is another restaurant like that on the second floor, more recliners and two rows of narrow mattresses. It's the quietest here, so at 1AM, in my Hawaii print pajamas, I occupy a mattress and sleep through the groans, wheezes, snores and coughing fits of my neighbours.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --


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Electronic Frontier Foundation
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