International Writers Magazine:
went to Asahi-ku for my usual four hour bath time at a local sento
that I rarely frequent. This place is well-known for having yellowish
brownish water, 100% onsen, and an excellent Swedish sauna which
had two heaters instead of the usual one. The room was as hot
as Dante's Inferno.
The usual tired
oyaji's stumbled into the sauna after last nights nomikai when they
saw this big, black, sweaty, grizzly looking African American guy sitting
there sweating it out to the sounds of his breath. The look of awe was
smittin across their faces and immediatly they were gripped with fear.
You see, I never smile or talk in the sauna, I just sit there with red
eyes and beads of sweat pouring down my face. People steer clear of
me. I like it that way.
One of the oyaji remarked, "You should smile when you enter a sauna
because you look dangerous and scary and you should greet too. You are
big and black and dangerous looking," he chided. "I am scared
of you." I apologized and I explained that during my sauna session
I never smile, especially after the fourth sauna session. I am concentrating
on a 12 minute timer and I need to focus on my breathing.
He didn't understand that as the affects of alchohol still lingered
across his breath.
Later, during my break, I went upstairs to grab a beer and some fried
octopus. That same oyaji saw me and begged me to come over and sit next
to him and his flipina girlfriend. At first I refused, but he was persistent
and so I accepted. We sat there on the tatami laughing at my size, drinking
beer and eating fried chicken and fried potatoes (all paid for by them).
I remember his left pinker finger was missing. His girlfriend said he
used to be Yakuza. I thought that was a job for life...
Anyway, we laughed more and promised to meet up again sometime next
week (not). He made me promise to smile and greet every Japanese person
I come across while in Japan. Because according to his point of view
I'm a foreigner and I look scary and people perceive me as dangerous.
Here is a fact:
If you smile and greet everyone in a public bath house you only invite
trouble. Why ? Because when you show your teeth too much people think
you are kind and friendly. And when they think you are kind and friendly
then they want to warm up to you. And when they warm up to you and loose
their fear of you, they think they can say anything to you, like "hey,
you are fat" or even touch you.
It's when you don't smile and limit your words to "I don't speak
Japanese" then they don't talk to you and steer clear of you. I
like this way best ! No harm, no foul and no stupid comments made to
the foreigner. Everybody is happy.
- November 2006
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