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Slow Times in Japan: Silence is Golden

The tank is full, the car is clean, and I'm cruising down the expressway at 120k/h with my windows down on a beautiful Thursday morning, not a cop in sight -- not a care in the world. I finally get to Hakone, world renowned for its hot springs-- just before noon then follow a long winding road up to the top of a hill to one of my favorite onsen.
After I get to the locker room I peep out to check who’s outside. "Excellent" I say to myself. Just a few pieces of furniture ( one or two old men gazing off into nowhere and sitting idly and complaining about everything and nothing). I can never bring myself to sit in an onsen full of people and then chat the whole experience away.

I get undressed, head over to the shower area with my long nylon towel (extra coarse). I make sure to rinse everything around the wash area before I squat down on one of the little stools. Then, I fill my bucket up with hot water, squeeze a little liquid soap into it and then dunk my nylon towel; getting it all nice and lathered up, I then begin to scrub my body down thoroughly.

Nylon towels are painful to use because they feel like sandpaper across the skin, but very good for removing dead skin and stimulating circulation. Finally rinsing the soap off I head out to the onsen, get in, and adjust my body to the hot water.   "OOOohhhaaaaayeah!" I grunt as I ease into the hot water, slowly and cautiously, so I don't slip.

After getting acclimated to the water an old Japanese man asks  me "Wawafom / where are you from?" I point to the sky. He looks at me a puzzled look.    Maybe if he had tried greeting me first, I wouldn't have been so sarcastic.   I continue.   I'm from the moon.   Then I asked him " where are you from?" And now he's looking even more befuddled. "I'm from Japan!" he says, with a nervous chuckle.

("In Japan, even if you only know one or two phrases the locals all say " you speak good Japanese" or in the language "Aaahhh....nihongo jozu desu ne." If you speak Japanese too well then they generally lose interest in you and shy away from you").   Charming.

Maybe had I approached him in a swimming pool in L.A., being half naked, and asking him where he was from withoutf first greeting him , just maybe he would've thought I was a nuisance, too.  I would never approach another grown man naked in a public bath without first greeting or addressing him properly. And no, blabbing off at a stranger has nothing to do with the culture of Japan, nothing whatsoever so spare me.

Another experience I had is where another guy addressed me as "Oi!" which is a bit derogatory and means "Hey!" in Japanese. I just ignored him which made him look a bit embarrassed.  I don't answer to "Oi!" I would never address another Japanese with such a word.

While sitting in this hot water I always take deep breathes while closing my eyes momentarily. Soaking in the pristine nature around me as birds serenade me, I take notice of the constant stream of hot onsen water gushing out of a stone from afar.  Instantly I am relaxed.  This is what weekdays are for. Getting away from the loved ones, heading out to some remotely located onsen, soaking in nature, and catching up with mother nature.

After soaking and enjoying myself for 3 hours I go to the rest area, grab a cold beer and order up some fried octopus legs - I love legs. The beer this place serves always comes in a tall frosty mug and legs are always so juicy and crispy. After about two beers I take a nap in the sleep area next to a flowing river then wake up refreshed a few hours later then head home.
Silence is Golden

I love Japan


  1. Man, you do enjoy picking fights, huh? Ha ha. You know as well as I do that the guy probably meant no harm. You could have just faked that you don't speak katakana-english or Japanese. Become that backgroundless foreigner. It's the aikido of avoiding conversations. Your approach always seems like the punch to the nose. Ha ha.

  2. Hey Deas!

    Thanks for the comment. I am not good at feigning ignorance too much. I've done that approach before when I was in Kyushu; play like I don't speak English or Japanese.

  3. I've had some great onsen conversations, but I know what you mean - sometimes silence is golden, and all you want to do is sink up to your ears and enjoy...

  4. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the comment. When I'm travelling in the countryside my mood is a bit different. I am more conversational and enjoy myself. It's the city slicker types that I hate talking to the most.



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