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Things I love about Japan #4

   Yes, believe it or not, the public bath (銭湯, sentō) is right up there with all the other wonderful things I like about living in Japan. Of course, if I had the choice between traveling out of town to soak in a real hot spring (温泉, onsen) or just going across the street to our neighborhood sentô, I would go to the onsen. But when you haven't got the time, the public bath with its deep baths full of scalding hot water are a nice substitute.

   Honjō-yu (本庄湯) pictured here was built in the early 1950s. I can't imagine what my neighborhood of Imaizumi was like back then. Today, it is a confusion of tall apartment buildings, the occasional house, Buddhist temples, restaurants and bars, boutiques . . . and, oh yes, love hotels. There are half a dozen or so love hotels in Imaizumi. The closest of these is called "Hotel Elegance" which lends the neighborhood a certain je ne sais quoi.

   At the neighborhood sentō the other day, I noticed that my son's fingers were turning into raisins and asked him if he wanted to get out of the bath. No was the answer; he was having too much fun.

   It was only our second visit to the sentō since we moved to the area a few weeks earlier, and in spite of the ferocious tantrum he had the first time we went when he refused to let me undress him, he has really come to like the old place, to splashing about and floating on his back in the big tub.

   But, no sooner had Yu voiced his desire to stay in the tub and soak some more, than an old man entered the bathing room.

   All loose pallid skin and brittle bones, his hair a wild gray mop, the old man looked like he had been living for the past few years on a deserted island.

   Yu looked at the old man, then looked at me with alarm in his eyes and said, “Daddy, Yu-kun’s finished.”

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