Japan. Four years. Got the lingo down, OK. I can successfully barter with the natives. They tolerate me like some semi-mute oddity, instead of a freckle-smothered sideshow, slash, snack-operated English conversation robot. And I can do stuff. Stuff like directly ask stupid questions. Stuff like pretend I’m interested in expensive massage recliner chairs, when I get busted at the electrical store, for having yet another free back rub.
I’m less conscious of receiving, what an African-American friend, coined as the: “jock print stare.” A.K.A, the crotch-ward gaze Japanese women seem to give, instead of looking at your face. The exaggerated cross-cultural equivalent of a man, “accidentally,” having a conversation with a women’s breasts. I reminded him, that looking down was a Japanese trait of humility. “Don’t believe it for a second,” he replied cynically. “That’s just the cultural excuse.” So to prove his point, the Japanese-fluent, former-marine, wore his jock print,”loud and proud,” as he traveled to the gym each week, in his tightest shorts, and happily absorbed the commentary from the female Japanese commuters.
I can’t believe that tattoos have to be covered in most public bathing areas in Japan. Concerns about Yakuza riff-raff. Hello? Do I look like Yakuza? Do they recruit pasty, Japanese-illiterate foreigners? No, but surely the salary would be better than my teacher’s pay. And what a party trick it would be, to cut Teppanyaki with a Katana sword. My business front name could be, Raijin Gaijin (Foreign Thunder-god) Teppanyakiya; with an international party night: Jock Print Saturdays, Mi Ho Dai. (all you can see)
But no, other than an unhealthy obsession with Tarantino’s Kill Bill, I’m clearly not Yakuza material. But, I do have tattoos, and to make matters worse, I’m hairy. Hairy in a way that makes Austin Powers look pre-pubescent. So it’s the eternal dilemma: miss out on the divine joy of a hot-spring, or, buckle under Japanese ultra-conservatism, and face off against a roll of heavy-duty sports tape. Of course, the Onsen always wins, and I’m to be found post-spa: red-raw and covered in bald patches, like I was mauled by a crack-cocaine addicted beautician.
But oh yeah, it’s worth it. “I’d sell my soul for an Onsen,” I muse, as I’m lazily melting away. I often imagine some mythological, Japanese founder-warrior, making just such a trade off, with an Evil, Onsen peddler.
Warrior: I, large lizard, all day battling, have been. Aching muscle, many have. Refreshing relaxation needed, much is.
Onsen peddler: I, such relaxation, have. Onsen, to you, will give. Catch, one only, is there.
Warrior: Yes, catch, it what is?
Onsen peddler: The land of your victory, will suffer terrible natural disasters. Spa you may have, but for it, heavily pay will you.
Warrior: Does it come with a giant barrel of Sake?