Monday, May 31, 2010

Kumano Kōdō VII

09/07/09 (cont.)

...Shiori stayed on the train from which Miki and I disembarked. An unseasoned walker, she'd proven to be a good sport, in the footsteps of our folly as we did our longest day yet, 30 km in the what felt like the worst heat. (She told us later that she'd been footsore for the next 5 days.) We too were slightly battered, and therefore happy to be heading toward the sento, recommended by nearly every Gobō local whom we told about our walk. As I was stripping off my clothes, a worker at the sento walked up and told me that I couldn't enter with my tattoo. I very softly and politely told him that I'd had a long hot day, and wondered if I could enter the tubs for only 10 minutes. To my surprise, he reluctantly agreed, but moments later I noticed his form hovering over me, following from the washing area over to one of the tubs. As his attention was drawn away from me for a moment, I tried to lose him by heading to the outdoor baths. But a minute later, he was there again. I again told him I just wanted a few minutes, but he simply stayed lurking over me. This was no way to relax, so I glared at him and muttering "asshole" in English as I moved toward the dressing room again. While changing, a manager then came in and began to apologize. I stayed polite, saying I would respect the rules though I didn't feel that they still applied. Tattoos in my country don't have the same cultural stigma as here, and besides, don't many young Japanese people also wear them? He explained his position, and I again said I understood. While I'd had a tiring sweaty walk, and was sleeping in a tent, I'd go quietly. Provided he refund me the 1000 yen I'd paid. Here he said he couldn't do that. I explained that I'd been in this situation a couple times before, and had been graciously refunded my money both times, even after spending a significant amount of time in the water. He again held firm. I shifted then, my voice beginning to rise in frustration. (The irony was that in those other times I'd been booted from an onsen, I'd had an equally tough and tiring day.) I told him that the purpose of my walking the Kōdō was to write the first book in English about it (which at that point I was still considering), and that, considering his point of view, there was no way in which I could recommend this place. His face changed dramatically then, and I don't believe that I seen such a blatantly public facial expression in all my years here. (I could go into a rant about his young age, and the changing cultural mores, blah blah blah.) That expression betrayed his discomfort, (and the fact that he wasn't the top dog here, but was in the unfortunate position of being in charge at this moment, poor guy) yet he still refused. And my voice still rose in anger, and while I never lost my temper, it was temporarily misplaced. The manager's discomfort increased, as other bathers began to listen in on our exchange. And my final trump was that not only would I not recommend this place, I would defame it in print, thereby damaging a business at the crucial age of less than a year old.

So off I went, to cool down with a beer as I waited for Miki to finish her bath. I hid myself in a far corner of the dining area, but the manager still was able to find me to apologize, and stealthily return my money under the table. I too apologized, saying that I'm not a bad person, or an angry person, but that my weariness and disappointment had taken me over. But I felt like I was saying it to myself, as if in justification. Did I win? Nope. While I never yelled or exploded, I still publicly displayed behavior that I despise and avoid at all times here, that of the violently angry gaijin barbarian, prey to his own emotions. I had bullied a poor young guy in order to maintain my principles, as if they are higher than his. I still believe in those principles, that the situation holds more precedence than any inflexible rule. But I've been in Japan long enough to know that this isn't how order is maintained here, and that rules are necessary since, you know, 'you gotta have wa.' As a guest in someone's home, I'd never rearrange the furniture if I thought that the recliner looked better under the window. Better to sit on those feelings, and refuse a return invite, should it ever come again. Despite my shame and regret about this incident, I will never go to a so-called 'Super-sento' again, not because of this encounter, but because I find them the strip mall equivalent of bathing. Gimme a crusty old neighborhood sento anyday...

On the turntable: Jane's Addiction, "Strays"

1 comment:

wes said...

sorry you had to encounter such a stressful situation after an insanely long day. I've had similar "discussions" with hut owners throughout the years over such trivial issues such as water access.

Still can't believe hot springs are so adamant about tattoos, and even more rigid in their rule enforcement, but that applies everywhere in this country, where exceptions to any rule, no matter how ludacris, are not granted.