Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cultural Experiences

We've been lucky enough to have a handful of visitors while we've been here, and each time I'm prompted to seek out new experiences.

This time, it was kabuki and a public bath.


The Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza has one-act tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. Each act is about 40 minutes long, and if you aren't in line soon enough, it's standing room only.

The Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza
Photo from here

If you don't speak Japanese, absolutely spend the extra yen and get the headset for translation. The style is so very...well, stylized, that body language and vocal intonation just aren't enough to follow what's happening. In addition, the plots are fairly complex. In one scene, several characters were lined up, staring straight at the audience without moving anything but their mouths. We were far enough away that we couldn't tell who was talking, so we never would have known that Character A was talking to Character B but speaking in such a way that it was really Character C that was being addressed.

Not the show we saw, but a good representation of the style.
Photo from here

So it turns out that it's not my favorite kind of performance, but it sure was pretty. And now that I've seen it and sampled the style, I can really see its influence in art and cinema through present day. For lack of a better analogy, it's like seeing the original music video and suddenly having a better appreciation for what the parody did with it.


Near the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, I found a sento, or public bath, that the Blogger at Onsen Soaker said is OK with tattoos. I was still a little anxious that I might be turned away, or at least get the stink eye from other bathers, but that wasn't the case. We were definitely the topic of some conversation, but we were completely welcomed, and it warms my heart.

It didn't hurt that inside has beautiful mural that spans both the men's and women's sides of the facility.

Photo from here

Two different obasan (older women) helped us get find the stools and wash basins, showed us how to use the faucets (push, not turn), and told us which bottle was body soap and which was shampoo. Then another obasan instructed us to stand in a particular section and push the button for full-body jets. And to hang on to the rails because they're powerful enough to shoot you across the pool.

Of course I raised my fist toward the opposite wall and cried "Chaaaaarge!" when I let go of the rail. It got a laugh, so it's good to know I don't always need to be able to speak the language well for comedy.

I also learned that denkifuro - electric baths - are a thing. A shallow pool with a mild electrical charge being pumped through it. I...don't know how to feel about that. Tingly, but I can't decide if it was pleasant or alarming. I stood in it before I realized what it was, so I only felt it up to my knees, but that was probably enough.

I wouldn't have gone to the public bath on my own, but it was a neat experience, and very communal. I'm not completely comfortable with nudity, like a lot of Westerners, but I'm learning that in the right setting it can be okay. And Japanese baths and hot springs are the right setting.

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