In my life, three whole days off are something of a rarity. When I saw on the work schedule that I had a three day weekend, I could hardly believe it! I immediately started planning a trip to somewhere, anywhere.
Somewhere in my trip planning I realized that I had no companion for this trip. My friends had plans, husband had to work, blah, blah, blah. I pictured myself frantic, lost and confused on the Tokyo train system, and considered staying at home. Maybe a three day weekend relaxing was really what I needed. What was the word? Staycation. Yeah, I could definitely use a staycation. Home was safe, known to me, and easy. As soon as I thought “easy”, something in my mind went NOPE.
A few weeks later, I was on my way, with a guidebook to Tokyo in hand from the library. I hadn’t done a ton of planning, so when the guidebook listed Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, as one of the top places to visit, it was the first place I decided to go.
Senso-ji is a shrine to the deity of mercy, Kannon. When two brothers fished her statue out of the river, they made a shrine to the statue.
I did a pretty good job (I thought) of copying what everyone else did. When they all walked up to the incense and used their hands to pull the smoke towards them, I did the same. When they threw money into a box, bowed, clapped twice, and bowed again, I awkwardly attempted to do the same. With my blonde hair and selfie stick, I was obviously a tourist.
After a stroll around the gardens, I was ready to leave Senso-ji for another distinctly Japanese experience: the public bath. This bath was an onsen, meaning that its water was supplied and heated from an underground hot spring.
At the onsen, I opted to buy the “empty-handed kit”, which included a towel, toothbrush, soap, and razor–everything you need for a good bath!
I headed into the women’s locker room, left my things in a locker, and attempted to figure out the Japanese shower situation, using my technique of “just copy what everyone else is doing”. What I mean by the “shower situation”, is that instead of a standing shower or shower stall, there was a faucet on the floor where people squatted or sat on a stool. They also had a basin filled with water that they used for something, and I never quite figured out for what.
All the while, people were definitely staring at me, and I wondered if it was because I was again, obviously a foreigner, or because I was doing something wrong.
After a complete scrub, you are allowed to enter the bath. They were all labeled in Japanese, so I picked one and got in, feeling incredibly self-conscious. Almost as soon as I had gotten in, an old lady, with both eyes so wrinkled and drooping that I had thought she was sleeping, started yelling at me! She was pointing at me, and another woman told me, laughing, “It’s your hair.”
I jumped out, tied my hair up, and forced myself to get back in. After all, part of the whole traveling alone experience was being a little uncomfortable, right? So what if I had gotten yelled at by an old lady while completely naked, without understanding a word of it. It was all a part of the scene. While I was mulling this over in my head, I started to feel a prickly sensation in my legs and moved towards the side of the bath–it got worse! Pins and needles shot through my entire body, and I could barely move. First I had been yelled at, and now I was probably, no, definitely, dying. The whole situation had me thoroughly weirded out, and strangely paralyzed.
In my confusion, I looked up and saw a sign, in English, reading “ELECTRIC EEL BATH”
Um, what? I guess that explained the prickling. And I guess I would probably live (to clarify, I didn’t see any electric eels, I think it just simulated the feeling of their shock). But I had had plenty of shocks for one day, so after a quick dip into the ice bath, I made my way “home”.
I had made arrangements on Air B&B to stay with a Japanese family, which turned out to be even better than I expected! They spoke English, so we had a great conversation, shared some wine and sake, and then I was ready for a long sleep. Tokyo, after just one day, was already impressing me and stretching my mind.