8.31.2007

Reisurely Activities in Japan

After having lived in Japan for little over a month now and becoming comfortable with my job and my surroundings, I’ve been able to enjoy a little of what old Nippon has to offer its denizens in the way of leisure.

Firstly, I got back on the proverbial bucking bronco and joined a new and semi-overpriced gym here in Osaka. Now I’m used to the wonderful ‘mom & pop’ feel of the YMCA back in Jersey where it’s very laid back, the towels are a comforting pea green color and the machines haven’t been serviced in about 5 years. That’s just what I like. I guess I find a sort of comfort in mediocrity and not trying too hard. So the evil, new gym is located about a ten minute walk from work and it’s on the 6th floor of the shopping complex called Ame Mura, which of course, is short for America Mall. I do not know who does the translation for these people. I just know they’re usually wrong. So to get to Ame Mura, you have to walk through the trendy shopping district of Shinsaibashi. The streets are lined with hundreds of small, overpriced boutiques that sell typically Americanized fashion, or at least what the Japanese consider to be American fashion. All the stores sport signs for Hollister or Abercrombie and have mannequins on the sidewalk dressed in ripped jeans, converse sneakers, a trucker hat and of course, the typical dirty-looking and overpriced faded, vintage tee. Outside these stores and in several courtyards are all of the Harajuku girls and boys who basically sit or stand around and try to be noticed in their fashionable attire. Who are they trying to be noticed by, you ask? I have no fucking clue. They’re pretty much all dressed equally eccentrically so I can’t imagine anyone really being impressed other than a foreigner like myself, who happens to view the entire things as pretty absurd. But then again, at least they’re not smoking pot and killing little girls on bicycles.

So if the neighborhood is as uber-posh as I’m describing it, you can only imagine how faux-ritzy the gym must be. First of all, everyone gets way too dressed up just to walk in the door. But this is common in everyday life, people being ridiculously overdressed for mundane activities, so in comparison, getting dressed to go to the gym is perfectly reasonable. I mean, you’re going to be seen by easily at least 200 people walking there, taking the train and passing through Shinsaibashi so you should probably get out your red carpet gown. Once you’re finally in the gym, there’s a complex system of getting yourself started, JUST LIKE EVERYWHERE ELSE! God forbid I ever have an easy time doing anything but wiping my ass in this country. They’d make you wipe to and fro and side to side if they could only find a way to monitor it with a high enough level of customer service.

So when step out of the elevator, you enter the main lobby, which overlooks the humungous sky-lit pool on the top floor of the mall. I give my ID card to one of the many attendants at the desk, all of whom are dressed in the same uniform of sneakers, grey shorts and this blue jersey-type thing that’s not very flattering for the females but since when are females important in this society anyway? After I hand in the ID card, there’s usually some problem with something that I can’t understand even after it’s explained to me so I just ask them if the gym is open and if it’s OK for me to go. So eventually, they just get sick of trying to explain things to me and just let me go. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes. But before I go into the locker room I have to swipe my ID card through another card reader for attendance purposes I guess. Then I grab a towel and head to the locker, in which it is prohibited to wear your shoes, just like the fitting rooms in department stores. So I walk through the beautifully floored and lacquered locker room and choose a locker. Once at the locker, I put my ID card in a little slot in the door, which releases a numbered key from the door. This key is on a little blue bracelet that I wear at all times while at the gym and it’s a bit cumbersome but at least I don’t have to pay for it. So once that’s all set and I’m changed, I am ready to finally begin exercising. No! Wait! I still don’t have my shoes on.

I have to collect my shoes from among the mountain of everyone else’s shoes at the door, a totally inefficient system, and walk with shoes in hand to the stretching mats opposite the pool. After stretching sans shoes, I can finally tie myself up and get on a treadmill. Fortunately, my gym, which is called Tokyu Oasis: Club West, (uppity, right?) uses the same equipment as the YMCA so all the treadmill’s buttons are written in Japanese but are in the same place. So I run like I fucking own the place. Every time someone passes I fiddle with the buttons as if to say, “Duh, of course I can read Kanji. Do I look like an idiot to you?” Most of my life here is about fooling people into thinking I actually know what’s going on. I do pretty well at this considering my absolute Alicia Silverstone status.

After a sweaty half hour of treadmill, it’s time to move on to the weights. This is where I was first humiliated on my first day at the gym last week. Apparently this gym is all about ego because on each and every piece of weight equipment (smith press, leg press, etc.) there are two stickers on the weights, a red circle and a blue circle. Much to my own chagrin, I only realized that these stickers refer to recommended weight amounts for men (blue) and women (red) after about two days of using said machines. So, I was all over that awesome red dot because the blue was a bit too heavy for me after taking a month off from working out in any way whatsoever. And so I can just imagine how John Wayne I must’ve looked huffing and puffing away trying to lift those red dotted weights on my first few days. “Rook at the pretty rady rifting his weights!” They all must’ve had a good chuckle about that one later on in the tea room.

So needless to say, weightlifting is quite a humorous and humbling experience in this country, for me at least. Anyway, on my most recent trip to the gym, I was on the treadmill, which looks across the open plaza (6 floors down) and faces the pool area across the plaza. So basically, I have complete surveillance of the pool and its swimmers at all times while I’m running, which really does the trick when it comes to distracting me from counting the minutes. Not only do I get to watch all the funny aqua-cise classes but I also get to scope out all the J-boys in their skivvies. So the other day, these two ridiculously toned guys come strutting out of the locker room, yes, strutting, and they make their way over to the lounge chair area where they are in plain view of my treadmill. They are both at least 6 feet tall, evenly tanned, wearing tight blue jammers and have at most 6% body fat. As if I wasn’t sweating enough already, my perspiration levels quickly spiked as my interest in the countdown clock suddenly waned. Now of course, the more handsome of the two boys decides that before his swim, he needs to take a few pictures for god knows what. I’m not sure how popular MySpace is over here but I need to get his fucking user name. So he hands his buddy a digital camera and proceeds to pose against the glass window with his ass directly in front of me. I’m pretty positive he had no idea I was watching as intently as I was, but at that moment, I could swear he was posing for my eyes only. Moving on, he takes a few pictures and after each one dutifully reviews it giving it the thumbs up for immediate uploading or the thumbs down due to over-smiling or bulge positioning. I thought this was bad enough and I was all ready to go get my frustration out in the locker room and skip my work out, but no, he was not finished yet. Mister super model decides to take his jammers off and reveal his skimpy-wimpy hot pink Speedo underneath. Yeah, I tripped on the treadmill and had to support myself with the railings for a few steps until I regained my composure. A pink Speedo I was definitely not expecting. I wasn’t complaining but I definitely wasn’t expecting it. So of course, there he goes with another round of pictures with even more suggestive poses this second time and I. AM. DROOLING. I mean, come on. I can only take so much before someone gets hurt.

Oh, by the way, these guys were completely straight. Behavior like this is perfectly normal in Japan and guys are dressed as prettily as girls are and if guys are possibly bisexual, girls get turned on like crazy. The idea of two guys getting it on is such a hot image for females that there are entire floors of comic book stores dedicated to man-on-man comic book action. And the customers are all girls, which is crazy in my opinion. But on the other hand, if two guys would ever decide o have a relationship, the world would probably end. Being gay is so hush-hush here. One explanation I received is as follows. Men are so important in this society and they completely overpower women; women being subservient and generally of a lower class. So, having two men get together is like seeing two Zeus’ fuck each other. It’s comparable to the Britney-Madonna kiss or Cher going on tour with Kelly Clarkson. It’s a meeting of the two highest forms of being which results in an orgasm of power and forbidden sin. However, these two supreme beings could never ever form a copasetic relationship because society has such strict views against homosexuality, even more so in areas outside Osaka. So, two guys are hot to watch but never meant to work. Fortunately, this is not the case in the rest of the world and we have Will & Grace to thank for that.

So as we have seen, the Japanese just love to be without their clothes, whether they’re wearing pink Speedos, frolicking around the locker room in dainty towels or hanging out in Spa World. Yes, you read that right. Spa World. My roommate Parris and I recently visited this wondrous location because August is discount month and we just had to do it at least once. Spa World is an 8-floor amusement park for the gluttonous in the middle of downtown Osaka. A place like this would never fly in America but the Japanese are just bonkers about it. Here we go.

Upon entering Spa World, you must deposit your shoes in a locker and go barefoot from here on. I hope you got your pedi done because you are on fucking display. Next, you must buy your ticket from the vending machine, which is not in English so it’s kind of a guessing game / do what the person in front of you does. It’s only 1,000 Yen for about 5 hours, a great price, so I’m not that put off just yet. I AM put off when I pass the beetle store. In the middle of this lush lobby with Corinthian pillars and plush carpeting is this ridiculous area where this old guy is selling scarab beetles. Yeah. Big, shiny, black and horned scarab beetles. WHAT THE FUCK! I’m trying to relax and go to a spa, not to steal the fucking lamp from Jafar. Who the hell sells scarab beetles at a spa?! Ugh! So Parris and I bypass the beetle booth and head toward the turnstile, yeah a spa turnstile, where this little girl in a smock takes our tickets and replaces them with green, electronic wristbands. From now on, if we need to buy anything in Spa world, we charge it to our wristband and pay at the end. Very smart idea, I thought.

They do this principally because you do not wear clothes in Spa World. I did not know this when I signed up for the trip. I thought I’d get a big robe with slippers and I could get a mud bath in a private room or maybe even a hot tub with four or five people. I was very wrong. Once, you’ve been wristbanded, you move upstairs to your respective floor, separated between men and women. That day, the men happened to be on the European floor and the women were on the Asian floor. I have no idea what the differences between the floors are but I was just happy to finally be doing something that wasn’t Asian. Parris and I get upstairs to the locker room where we have to get yet another locker for our clothes and we change into these little warm up suits that are comprised of blue, scrub-material Capri pants and a blue and white, striped barber’s shirt that fits me like a circus tent. So there we are, with our wristbands and ninja suits, ready to enter the wonder that is Spa World.

We walk about ten feet and realize that we have to get naked already. Not two seconds away from the locker room is a bin of used ninja outfits and beyond that is the entrance to the men’s spa where clothes are not allowed to be worn. So why the hell did they give us these outfits to wear if we can’t even wear them?! As usual, things would probably make more sense in this country if I could just read a fucking sign every once in a while. So we strip down to our tangerine face cloths that can either be used to dry your face, cool your head or worn as a sarong. I chose the sarong route and boy were we a sight to be seen. Not a week earlier, I had gone to the beach and gotten this horrible burn on my stomach and chest which was in this intricate rash shape, making it even worse to look at. So, just that morning I was beginning to peel and there I was at Spa World, flaky, red and naked. Not the best of situations. I mean, I get stared at to begin with just because I’m white. I don’t need extra reasons to be looked at. Plus, I had Parris with me who is, for all intents and purposes, a black man. So as soon as we entered the spa, people’s heads were spinning to check out Fire-crotch and Tripod. We were quite entertaining and this is the kind of attention that I was not enjoying. I couldn’t even reply with a biting quip or anything cool like that. I just had to smile and try act as if I wasn’t horribly bothered by all the nakedness.

Little boys were running around completely naked, jumping and splashing in the hot tubs next to men of all ages and no one was worried about this. Apparently, pedophilia is not a thing to be feared or talked about in Japan so people just let their children frolic freely about the spa. This shit would never work in America! There would be signs that kids of a certain age need to be accompanied by adults and certain rooms would be ‘kids only’ and others would be family rooms and all sorts of other rules. Plus, there would be “caution wet floor, cuidado piso mojado” signs all over the place. The whole building is covered in ceramic tile, slick from people’s soggy footprints. I mean, this place was a lawsuit waiting to happen. But hey, if it’s working for them, they should enjoy it. But when some old man slips and falls on top of some little boy’s no-no spot, don’t come complaining to me. I warned you.

There are all sorts of different rooms in Spa World. There is a salt room where you can step on piles of salt (WEIRD) and a fish room where you can sit in a glass-bottom hot tub surrounded by fish tanks on all sides. That was a little strange for me but I still enjoyed it. Another fun room is the Greek room with three different kinds of baths all in a black-lit room with starts projected on the domed ceiling. Each bath has a different temperature and a huge potato-sac tea bag floating in it filled with different herbs like mint, jasmine and lavender giving each bath a distinct color and aroma. Verrrrry relaxing was the Greek room. You can also go in the outdoor hot tub with a blazing hot waterfall on one side of it. This is not refreshing and I did not enjoy this room. Also, my sunburn was quite visible in this area and people were not ashamed to stare rudely and blatantly. It’s unfortunate that giving the finger has no significance in this country because I was flipping the bird at so many of them that day. My favorite room was probably the Paul Bunyan room which consisted of log cabin saunas and log bridges over ice cold baths. So, we sat inside this horribly stifling sauna for a good three minutes because that was all I could take and immediately ran into the startlingly cold bath. I stayed in that bath for a good twenty minutes. Partly because I was enjoying the cooling sensation and partly because the shrinkage was so severe that I just couldn’t be asked to walk around like that.

After that, Parris and I decided to call it quits. We had been naked long enough and my skin was becoming oniony. To this day, I am still peeling and still pink and it’s been about two weeks since going to the beach. So I’m going to end this blog here for now. I have go re-apply and check my Johnson & Johnson stocks anyway. Domo arigato gozaimasu!

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