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They are an institution in Japan, which is not surprising because the
country is overrun with volcanoes. The mist in mountain gullies is
often not mist at all. It’s steam rising from cracks in the ground. And
that smell of bad eggs has nothing to do with eggs. It’s sulphur
dioxide ... the price you pay for having a continual supply of hot water.
Many country inns have hot spring baths and these are usually private.
Spas have big pools as well as private baths. Bathing is done with clothes
off and most pools are segregated. A few allow mixed bathing.
Whether you bathe privately or with others it is important to wash first. The
hot spring baths in the inns may look like big wash tubs but they are not for
that purpose. A washroom is always provided and you use that first. You
will find low stools and bowls for hot water. Squat on a stool, smear yourself
with soap, scrub thoroughly then take a shower to get rid of the soap.
Spas provide minuscule towels. They serve three needs. The first is
modesty. Bathing costumes are not allowed and many bathers feel the
need for some sort of covering as they make their way from the washroom
to the side of the pool. The second reason is advertising. The resort‟s
name is on the towels and customers are expected to souvenir them. The
third reason is drying but how you dry with s uch a small item beats me.
Some young guys told me about a fabulous spa they used to visit before the
municipality shut it down. Their account was given in Japanese and no one
was game to call on my wife or any of the other ladies for an accurate
translation so I may have got a few details wrong.
As far as I can make out entry was, on certain nights, restricted to older
teenagers. There were separate washrooms but bathing was mixed. The
girls stripped off and got in at one end and the boys did the same at the
other. There was a rope at the halfway mark and the bathers were allowed
to swim to it and talk. Underwater viewing masks were banned and touching
was strictly out.
I‟m aware of fundamental errors in my command of the Japanese language.
However, there are limits to my mistakes. I sometimes confuse left and
right. I‟m sure that I never confuse male and female. So, unless I got the
whole thing hopelessly back-to-front, it was the girls who started touching
and that was the cause of the fuss.
A journalist with one of the local newspapers claimed that the young ladies
ran a competition to see how many boys they could touch, awarding points