The Path Where Naked People Walk

This past weekend I went to the mainland for a two day “mini rowing camp” in Yonago. After two hours coxing on the relatively smooth water, the team and I packed up and headed to the grocery store where I spent entirely too much time gazing lovingly at the cheese and fruit sections. After walking around in said wonderland (there were so many different types of food!!) for probably close to 45 minutes, we then headed back to my coach’s house where we would all be crashing that night.

The whole week prior to this weekend I had been freaking out about the schedule: 5 hour ferry, two hour practice, onsen, dinner, 7 am run, 8 am breakfast, 10-12 practice, lunch, 5 hour ferry back to Oki. Guess what I was freaking out about? Yup. The onsen. This wasn’t like the one onsen we have on the island where you can wear your bathing suit into the bath. This was the more traditional kind where you literally walk into a public bath butt-naked. No clothes. In front of people. Oh my gosh, no clothes.

When I mentioned my fear of birthday suiting it up in front of people, one of the girls was kind enough to invite me to bathe at her house instead. I’m pretty sure I said I would do that, but then things happened and I found myself at my coaches house with all of the onsen fanatics. My coach, knowing I got heart palpitations every time someone said the word onsen, told me I could bathe at his house while they were out and set out some towels. Phew. I had successfully evaded the public bath.

But then, all of the girls were telling me about how amazing it was, and they mentioned I could just go and read in the lobby, and I realized that I always did this. I always backed out of things because I was too scared to try something completely new. And so, wanting to break out of my shell, I agreed to go at the last minute. And then spent the car ride wondering what I’d gotten myself into. It didn’t help when our coach told us it was a mixed bath (meaning men and women would be naked in the same bath). He was met with a disbelieving but terrified “WHAT!” from myself and my teammate. Luckily he was just joking, and was 100 percent satisfied with our response. I was less than amused.

When we got to the onsen (which, by the way, was a replica of Matsue castle. Or at least the top was), we quickly bought our tickets and headed off to the locker rooms where I was immediately greeted with naked granny butts. And just like that, almost everyone was naked but me, and every conversation from then on involved serious amounts of intense eye contact. And so, my teammates went into the next room to shower and I found myself mostly alone but for a young mother and her daughter who were about to leave. Taking the opportunity, I took a deep breath and began stripping only to realize the little girl had moved right next to me (so she could be in front of the fan) and began staring right at my butt. Pushing down my instinct to scream and hide behind something, I finished my job, clutched my “modesty towel” to my chest like it was my most treasured possession in the world, and I headed onto the battlefield. (A modesty towel is a small towel about 8 inches wide, and a couple inches short of two feet long. Just enough to cover the essentials.)

It was nothing like I expected. Everyone was showering on little stools, everyone looked me directly in the eye, and no one could have cared less that I was naked. And just like that, my worries began to melt away. When we entered the outdoor bath, made up of stones and tiny waterfalls, and overlooked the town below (the onsen was on top of a small mountain), my worries were practically gone and I was able to relax completely. Well, mostly. I still held my arms strategically in front of my upper body. I’m not crazy, geez.

After about an hour of soaking and chatting, our rumbling stomachs got the best of us and we headed out. My teammates casually walked out, and I bee-lined it to where I had placed my modesty towel, and then walked out with mimicked casual indifference. When I had taken a couple of steps out of the pool and was half-way through the door to the showering room, I started to get really dizzy and my vision tunneled for a couple of seconds. Me being used to this happening every time I took a bath or stood up too quick, I shook it off like a champ. No stopping me now! My clothes were so close. But then the locker room entrance happened.

As I entered the locker room, I got immediately dizzy for the second time, which never happens, and I started feeling simply… awful. There’s no better word for it. My head felt too light and too heavy at the same time, and I felt like I barely had control over the rest of my body. Trying to stay upright, I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes (at least, I think I closed them. Not really sure). And then, next thing I knew I could slightly feel the sensation of the wall moving against my back, and my head bouncing off of something hard. When I came to a couple seconds later, I was staring at a large white polka dot surrounded by pink and I had absolutely no clue where I was. After a few seconds, two of my teammates were asking frantic questions, I was mumbling what I thought was, “I’m ok,” and there was a granny or two somewhere in the mix.

After several attempts to get up on my own, I was instructed to lay down and not move. I thought that was a pretty good deal and so I chilled out in the middle of the narrow entrance to the showering area, which just happens to be the path where every naked person walks. I vaguely remember people continuously asking if I was ok, in Japanese and in English, and, unfortunately I gained enough vision just in time for a young woman to come into the locker room and stumble upon me on the floor. Once again, I was asked if I was ok, and I instinctively looked up to tell her I was fine. To my horror, she was standing a foot away from my hip, so when I looked up I got entire eye-full of definitely-not-a-face. And now I have a terrible image burned into my brain, and I still have no clue what this woman’s face looks like.

The good news though, is that apparently through the fainting, smacking my head on a glass door, trying to get up, re-positioning, and not-quite-napping-because-I-wasn’t-allowed-to, I somehow managed to keep my modestly towel on the entire time. My arms couldn’t have cared less about breaking my fall, but they absolutely made sure no one saw any of my business, even when I was unconscious. God bless them.

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