The International Writers Magazine:

Bath-House Etiquette

I 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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