While living in Tokyo, Sundays were always my favorite day of the week. Just after lunch, I’d put on my shorts and running shoes, take the train to Yoyogi park and, for the next 4 hours, I’d play vigorous ultimate frisbee with my Tokyo ex-pat friends. Afterwards, we’d head out for dinner – often at Shakey’s — for pizza and beer. Yeah, you could say this was our little “Day at Home,” which you need sometimes when living abroad. However, Japan being Japan, you never truly forget where you are. You see, more often than not, on our way to dinner, we’d stop to soak our sore muscles at a little neighborhood “sento” – a traditional public bath house. Like many sentos, this was a simple place – just one VERY hot bath, with a bright mural of Mt. Fuji on the wall. Sometimes you could get in the water; other times, it was just too hot for my wimpy American body, unused to scalding itself on a regular basis. Hey, what do you want for a dollar?
As you probably know by now, I’m a pretty big fan of the Japanese bath culture. Whether it’s a plain, local sento or a high-end country onsen (hot spring), I love soaking in a steaming hot bath at the end of a long day. Usually such establishments offer one pool, maybe two – unless, that is, you’re visiting the fantastic Goko-Yu Onsen in Kyoto. Situated just across the lane from our guest house, the Luck You, Goku-Yu is what you might call a “modern” onsen. You don’t find wooden sliding doors and kerosene lamps here like you would in, say, Aomori prefecture at the Lampu No Yado traditional hot spring (Wow Place #28). At the Goku-Yu, by contrast, the decoration is spare; a few nautical stylings are about it. What the place lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in baths – like 6 of them, all different, all peculiar. There’s the traditional hot bath. The warm bath. The cold bath. Fine. Then it gets weirder. There’s the milk bath. The Chinese herbal tea bath. And if none of these entice you, there is the “electric bath.” Don’t ask me how this is safe, but the electric bath has an actual electric current running through the water. When you get in, your whole body tingles – in a not pleasant way, if you ask me. It’s a very strange sensation, like bathing with electric eels. Personally, it makes me a little nauseous, but I do appreciate the novelty. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to go back to Japan again and again – that weird, unexplainable touch that the locals seem to delight in. Hot springs are my happy place, where I can soak away my worries (with a bunch of other naked strangers). To each his own, right?
(What’s your happy place? In the midst of our crazy busy lives, we need to carve out our safe havens, places where we can revive, restore and recharge. If you haven’t already, set aside a room (or a part of a room) in your home for meditation, or yoga, or whatever. Something relaxing. And then set aside a portion of each day to spend in your haven. To quote the great Tich Nhat Hanh: “We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.”)