Jan 8, 2015

First experience at a Japanese Public Bath (Kyoto)

As most of you might know, I went to Japan for a short holiday (last last year. This is a VERY delayed post). In the last week of my CoFesta trip I went to Kyoto and stayed at Hostel Mundo. Nearby the hostel was a public bath which the owner of the hostel highly recommended. According to her, Choja-Yu (长者汤) is the second oldest public bath in Kyoto.

Address: 上長者町通松屋町西入須浜東町, 450上京区 , 京都府Japan
Tel: +81 75 441 1223 
According to Midori-san (Hostel Mundo’s Owner) , Choja-Yu Public bath operates till 12:00 midnight. But when i was there the public bath signage seems to say that it closes at 11:30 even though I did stayed till 11:45 pm =X.


My Yukishiro Tomoe Cosplay Makeup
I stayed at Hostel Mundo for 2 nights and both nights were mad rushes. I had decided to stay at Hostel Mundo mainly for the quaint experience of staying in a Machiya (traditional wooden townhouses) and to film a makeup/Cosplay tutorial while I'm there. And so on my last night in Kyoto, after i finished my makeup tutorial filming, I dropped everything and made a mad dash for the public bath. After all, that is something no Anime/ Manga fan will not know and the Gaijin/Otaku blood in me was boiling with curiosity.
I know I'm an otaku but when I think of Public bath I think of Hana Kimi and Duckling Prince xD.
However, the moment I stepped into the front counter of the public bath was the moment it finally daunted upon me the recklessness of my brash decision. I never felt more scared in my life (or maybe I have but I definitely haven’t felt this scared for a long time xD) .
The iconic scene in Bridget Jones Diary with the "f" word dragging along the screen came to my head.
This is how the front entrance looked like. Once you enter there is a small area for you to leave your shoes behind. Next is the front desk counter. The bath rooms were separated by gender and there were curtains on each entrance. There was also a foldable bamboo screens at each entrance.


This is a level 9999 rough  blueprint of Choja-Yu

Bamboo folding screens. Something like that …. I think

Unfortunately, the curtains were way too short and the bamboo screen was standing perpendicular to the side of the entrance. In short, it looked like this -____-;
WTF IS THIS SHITZ?!?!!!! Might as well don't put right ?! What shit were they hoping to cover?!?!! I saw a nekkid body the moment i stepped into the area of the front desk without even trying. On hindsight, I can’t remember if I was just overly traumatised and dramatised this whole memory or did I really see as much as I thought I did but ah well, I guess I can only verify that by going there again.
The enthusiastic and friendly uncle at the counter only further aggravated my Gaijin fear as he appeared as shocked as I was. And he even peered 2cm closer to check my face out; he was definitely amused. The bath cost me 410 yen (if I recalled correctly) which is not exactly cheap if you ask me.
There were a few other patrons around when I was there so I didn’t take any photographs of the interior . The Japanese tend to have a rigid rule about photographing things that belonged to them for copyright protection and I’m not sure if I would be scolded for it so I decided not to try. After all, there were naked people there and I don’t think it would be sensitive/nice of me to whip a camera out. Instead, I sketched out the interior furnishing based on my memory. I cannot be bothered to sketch out the wood grain details so you’d just have to imagine it yourself. Pretty much every furnishing there is made of good ol’ fashion wood or concrete.
This is roughly how the interior looks like. Cabinets are for storing of valuables and there is a quaint little corner for relaxing. Drinks such as Milk and Yoghurt can be purchased near the entrance, you just put your money in a tin can above the fridge that holds the beverage.
The main area was also everyone's changing room. Here is where everyone strip and dress. Yes, it's a big big culture shock.

Found a photo online! My rendition isn’t too far off haha !!
photo credit:

The moment I stepped into the main area was the moment all the Obasan looked at me from the corner of their eyes. They didn’t make any contact with me but they definitely noticed my presence. I stood blankly for a few seconds trying to compute the next course of action in my already very erratic mind. Then I frantically went about removing my makeup, using the toilet, getting the pails, undressing , locking my valuables and putting the necessary toiletries into my basin;  the place was closing soon.

This is how the Bathing area looked like. There are a lot of small little bathing stands (for the lack of a better term) in the middle which I left out drawing because it was just too complicated to draw on a Samsung Note3 , which by the way was what I used to draw all these sketches. Don’t mind the not-so-correct perspective lines --_--;;
The norm is, you have to clean yourself at the little bathing stands first before getting into the water. This comic (below, not the Kuro Basu one) I found online should educate you about the routine and the etiquette.
Photo credit: Rocketnews24
The rest doesn't need to be explained but the whole time I was there I was wondering why would anyone pay 410yen ( sgd $5.30) just to bath ?!? What's more bathing in a share place. WHY?????
Until I finally realized there were a few pools and one of them was milky white in colour. Then I remembered this scene from Hana Kimi where Mitsuki was in an Onsen with Izumi and she remarked on how the water was opaque. Then I realize , ah there are special herbs in the water! According to the signage on the wall, the water have medicinal properties and can help cure multiple bodily ailments such as cold feets, muscle aches and so on. I guess I can attest to that as after the bath, I walked back in the autumn cold with a head of wet hair (with my coat on though) and I felt absolutely warm. If you're wondering why didn't I dry my hair at the bath house and that's because its payable.  You have to put 2 x 10 yen coins into a machine that looked like it belonged in the museum and I was too cheap to pay that. Might as well go back to the hostel and dry my hair there right?
falls down Anime style! Don’t worry I didn’t.

Anyway it took a bit of courage for me to walk from my comfort zone towards the 'Onsen pool' and i made sure to wait for a moment where i was certain nobody was at the door. But the moment I stepped into the pool I nearly fell. There was an extra  step there which I clumsily missed; the water was too milky -_-. The auntie nearby instantly turned towards me out of concern (and probably a bit out of annoyance) and I had to  apologise profusely :(


Kuroko overheated in Onsen too…
I'm not very used to the heat so it took me a while to submerge myself. After the body got used to it, it felt great and very relaxing. However I think I stayed in the water for too long and when I came out I felt a little giddy headed. Just like in the Mangas and Animes lol  (Otaku antenna! )! There was also a cold pool where the water were freezing. I stepped in for like 5 seconds and called quits lol.
And this marks the end of my entry, I hope you enjoyed reading it. Even though it was like the bravest thing I've ever done in my life, I would still recommend you to try it the next time you are in Japan for an authentic slice of tradition and culture !

More information about Choja-Yu:

1 comment:

Lili said...

Wow your sketches are really nice!! :D

I really enjoy taking baths when I'm in Japan, especially shared ones, though I've never been to a proper neighbourhood communal bath before. I've been to the communal baths at hotels and ryokans (with strangers inside together with me) and to a few Super-Sentos (which have multiple different types of baths and saunas etc). People pay for such baths because 1. the water is Always at the right temperature without you having to draw the water yourself and heat it up etc and 2. It's a nice experience to be in a large bath, since many home bathtubs are quite narrow and not too comfortable. Not everyone has a bathtub in their house/apartment either.

I've had really fun conversations with obasans I've met at baths, after a while you get used to seeing people naked and you don't even think about it anymore, which is probably the reason why they didn't react much to you either.