In other words, you stink!

In the evenings I practice at Mrs. Ishii's. On Sunday there appeared to be some sort of function at the school, and I didn't have a room after 12 noon. So I decided that I might as well transcribe my Chaminade lesson and then see if Mrs. Ishii would mind hearing a little more flute than normal (she was fine with it, btw). Unfortunately, I practice here with the windows closed out of respect for the neighbors, who are very close and it got really hot in my room. That's when I decided to take a break and open the windows, maybe write a post or two.

All of a sudden, a call came up the stairs: "Meretsan, please take bath!" Really? She could smell me all the way down there? "Bath?" I said "Now?" "Yes, bath." she replied and walked away.

Japanese baths are actually whole rooms (err bathrooms): there's the insulated bathtub itself, which seems to usually be quite short by American standards and deep, lower than floor level, and then the whole room is tiled so that you can shower in it and generally steam up the place. Before coming to Japan I read a little on bath etiquette and apparently there is an order to the bathing: guests; adult male; adult female; children. The guests are supposed to try to refuse but will always (eventually) go first, however, both times I've taken a bath here Mrs. Ishii took me so by surprise it was all I could do to get my soap and get in. Hopefully she will not hold my faux pas against me. My understanding is that it's very important to clean yourself extremely well prior to getting into the tub (for which there is a ladle-type plastic cup and a bowl) since all of these other people will be sharing the bath water with you.

The first night I was here I didn't quite understand the whole protocol about the whole thing, and so I washed well beforehand and eased myself into the tub. "Now what?" I thought. I'm sure the idea is to sit and relax, but without so much as a rubber duckie to keep me occupied apparently I didn't stay in long enough for Ishiisan. After I was done she looked a bit crestfallen. "No bath?" she asked "shower?" I tried to assure her that I did, indeed, take a bath but it was a little lost in translation.

My second mistake was in having only the outer curtains for the all-purpose room before the "bathroom" closed - these are the ones that are normally closed and don't go all the way to the floor. After the fact, I noticed that there was a second set of curtains that did reach the floor, and I'm sure that if I had closed those Mrs. Ishii wouldn't have busted in while I was getting dressed. She was a good sport and gamely tried to cover her eyes with her hand as she stumbled through the question she had for me.

Mr. Takahashi has said to me "As proverb says, 'when in Rome, must be Roman'" I thought I would get it right the second time. Sitting in the tub I pondered how many of the 161 other guests over 20 years have sat in the same tub, hugging their knees and wondering how long they had to wait before getting out. Was I more or less amiable than the others? Why did it matter so much to me that I do as Ishiisan wanted? Mrs. Ishii wanted me to take a bath because she wanted to take care of me, and I wanted to take a bath to show Mrs. Ishii that I cared that she cared. Additionally, it must be hard to justify filling that whole tub just to indulge yourself. By having a guest bathe, Mrs. Ishii is giving herself permission to follow a tradition that is more meaningful when there are others to share it with. It's the same reason that I'll tell people that I want exactly what they want on their pizza because I know they don't usually get to have what they like.

Next time I will do my best to graciously try to refuse before taking my bath first anyway. Afterall, it's the only polite thing to do.