Last week we had a cultural analysis (thanks to reader and blogger Yokohamamama) of the “bzness kitteh” video used as an ad by the Japanese travel agency Jalan. There are four of these ads, all featuring the Japanese bobtail cat Nyaran engaged in business or pleasure travel. Only fifteen seconds long, the videos are nonetheless packed with insights into Japanese life and culture. But without a translator we’re clueless.
This week we have the second commercial, called “Having a Spa Day,” which is kindly analyzed again by Y. She adds her take on onsen (Japanese hot springs).
First watch the video, then read Y.’s analysis:
Here’s Nyaran at the hot spring:
Watashi wa Nyaran. Kyou wa hyoubanonsen ni kitan da yo!
(I am Nyaran. I’ve come to a famous/popular hot spring resort today)
Kyou wa sassoku! (Today, I’ll go straight to the bath! sassoku=directly, immediately, promptly, at once)
Un? Koko wa onna na nyo ka?! Shitsureishimashita!
(Huh? It’s all women in here?! Excuse me! shitsurei=rude)
Chikara ga nukeru. Shiawase. (I can relax. Happy)
He’s come to a popular hot spring resort—an expensive one, by the looks of it. The kind where a kimono-clad woman from the front desk comes to greet you and take up your luggage for you (his is so small, she’s carrying it on a tray—a nice, wooden carved one from Kamakura, from what I can see. It’s always preferable not to touch other people’s things directly, and you usually excuse yourself before you do touch someone’s things if you have to).
There are usually lots of things to do at a hot spring—and many people go relax in their own room first for a bit. There’s always a teapot, cups, and loose green tea on the kotatsu (low table—some have heaters attached underneath for keeping warm in the winter), and generally a snack, too—o-sembe or manjuu, or such. At an expensive-looking place like this, probably a pretty delicious snack. ) Rooms have TVs, and these days there’s also usually a big-screen TV in the common room. There’s usually ping-pong, go, shogi (chess), karaoke, sometimes playstation for kids (but it depends on where you go).
He decides to forgo all that and heads straight for the bath. He trots right back to the outdoor pool (you can see the stools and baskets behind him, where you put your clothes and yukata. A Yukata is a lightweight cotton robe that crosses over and is the same shape as a kimono, but those are made of silk). He has his little bath towel around his neck. Men put theirs around their waists, but that would be hard for Nyaran… It looks like spring because it’s green and it looks like there are tsutsuji (azaleas) blooming—which means Golden Week (April 29-May5), high tourist season.
But…this is the women’s bath! A-ra-ra! Excuse me!* And we see him make for the men’s bath (the blue noren curtains say 男湯= otokoyu = men’s bath). He dries off naturally in front of the fan after he’s soaked. They didn’t show him washing, but if you’ve never been to a Japanese hot spring, Rule Number One is: Wash well with soap and rinse off *outside* the bath. When you think you’re clean, wash again. And rinse. And *then* you can get in the hot water and soak. Rule Number Two is: Don’t forget to take off the toilet slippers after you’re done in the WC… )
I love Japanese onsen more than anything—no ugly bedspreads, no jarring colors, no bad art on the walls. A room with practically nothing in it, and an enormous cavern-like room dedicated to getting as clean as the day you were born. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then it’s no wonder Christianity never took off in Japan. Why go to church when you can go to an onsen?
We’re not the only primate that uses onsen. You’ve probably heard of the Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) who have also learned to soak in the hot springs. They’ve been doing this for several generations, and it’s a prime example of cultural transmission in other primates. Here’s a wonderful BBC video (click on the “Watch on YouTube” line) showing the monkeys soaking. They seem to enjoy it as much as humans do! And the scenes near the end of baby macaques leaping into the pool are adorable.
*JAC: I think Nyaran went in there on purpose: to look up the women’s towels! As we’ll see next week, he suffers from loneliness.