closed my eyes and enjoyed the relaxing warmth of
tub. I had adopted the Japanese custom of bathing in communal hot
tubs, since my tiny apartment had a shower, but no bathtub.
This was the first time I had come to this particular sento,
and I was the only bather there that afternoon.
It was late May in Kyoto, and I was enjoying a rare afternoon off
from my job as an English translator for the HMT Corporation. When I first
came to Kyoto over two years ago, I had just completed a graduate program
in Japanese studies. I was twenty-six, unmarried and was getting over a
breakup with a boyfriend, so the prospect of seeing the country I had
studied for so long, was very appealing to me. My close-knit family was
sad to see me leave, but they were supportive of my decision.
They could not have anticipated the degree to which I would embrace
my new home.
spoke Japanese from my years of studying it in high school and college, as
well as from speaking with the Japanese exchange students my family
hosted, but I found that even my extensive knowledge of the language did
not fully prepare me for my experience of living in Kyoto. I grew used to
people being shocked that I could speak the language at all, since I was gaijin
(foreigner), but my fluency increased quickly as I grew accustomed to
the Kyoto dialect.
had accepted a job teaching English in one the “Big Three” language
schools in order to obtain a work visa. I spent a year teaching, and
through my contacts with some of the men who attended night classes, I was
able to secure a job as a translator in a company that had dealings in
the year I spent teaching English, I made several good friends who were
also Americans teaching there, and I continued to socialize with them.
None of them spoke much Japanese, so they enjoyed being able to go out
with me knowing I could actually read a menu. I had made some Japanese
friends as well, and I was very happy with my life in Kyoto. I spent my
free time visiting temples and shopping at the many markets and stores
Kyoto had to offer. In my more than two years there, I had managed to
visit a few places outside Kyoto like Tokyo,
Nara, but I
always returned to Kyoto with the feeling that I was coming home. I could
not explain this feeling to my friends and family, but I loved Kyoto and
felt more at home there than I had ever felt anywhere.
I lay there in the tub, I thought back to last month when the cherry
blossoms had been in full bloom - sakura
, and I remembered how much fun the
parties celebrating spring had
been. There were so many festivals in Kyoto for each season, but certainly
sakura time was one of my
favorites. Summer would bring my favorite-Gion Matsuri with its beautiful floats, then Obon in August with the massive bonfires visible from the mountains
at night. People always praised autumn in Kyoto where omiji-gari-autumn color viewing, made people flock to the temples
and the hills of Arashiyama to see the vibrant colors of the leaves. I had
spent my life in New England, so leaf peeping was no novelty to me. Still
I enjoyed the season and even found winter more to my liking than the
snowy, cold New England winters of my past. Kyoto winters were very cold,
but they didn’t get too much snow or ice.
me. Do you mind if I join you in the
tub?” asked a naked Japanese man
who was holding a small towel below his waist to cover himself. I opened
my eyes in shock at both the naked man and the fact that he was speaking
fluent English to me. I was so surprised that I didn’t immediately think
to cover my front until I
noticed him staring intently at my body with a smile on his face. I grabbed
the small towel that the sento
provided, and quickly covered myself.
had never been to this place before, but I knew it
was a co-ed bathhouse. I
thought no one would show up in the afternoon, so I took a chance that I
would be alone there. I stared at his face and thought he was the most
beautiful man I had ever seen. His thick, dark hair was cut short in the
current trendy clip that accentuated his chiseled good looks. My eyes
traveled down his body, and I was amazed at how athletic and muscular his
body was. I
realized I was staring, and yet he made no effort to sit. “Please sit
down,” I said to him. “I know you have as much right to be here as I
do, but I’d be more comfortable if you sat.
I actually felt more comfortable staying under the water than I
would if I had to get up and walk away naked. Besides, it had been a long
time since I had spoken English to such an attractive companion.
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