- 1 - What to do Before Entering a Public Pool in Japan
- 2 - Treading Chlorine in a Public Pool in Japan
On one of the hottest days of the summer, I decided to try and beat the heat by going to a public pool. I had been told of an indoor poor a mere five minutes from my apartment. Of course, it’s only five minutes if you know exactly where you’re going. Otherwise, it’ll take ten to ninety minutes, thanks to the Japanese addressing laws which I will reproduce here in full:
Article I: Each city with a population over one million shall name ten streets, each smaller city shall name five. Under no circumstances shall any streets beyond those five or ten be given a name.
Article II: No street shall ever continue in a straight line for longer than fifty meters.
Thirty-five minutes later I arrived at a completely nondescript building that I would’ve taken for a library had it not been for the steady stream of people over sixty in bathrobes and sandals going in out of the doors. Before entering, I took a look around me, hoping to locate some landmark that could help me find my way back. I spotted a good one about 200 meters in the distance: my apartment building.
Happy to get out of the extreme heat and humidity of a Fukuoka summer, I opened the door and was hit by the extreme heat and humidity of a Mumbai summer. Or some other place three times as uncomfortable as Fukuoka. The air was so thick with moisture and chlorine that I could barely breathe and my eyes started tearing up immediately. “Irasshaimase!” came the friendly and overly cheerful greeting from behind the counter, followed immediately by a bunch of other words whose cheerfulness quickly tailed off as the poor girl realized she was dealing with a foreigner.
Guessing correctly that I was about to blindly head down one of four hallways, each marked with a handful of indecipherable—and seemingly identical—characters, the receptionist popped out from behind her counter and guided me to a vending machine next to a giant barrel full of plastic bags. This being my third month in Japan, my behavior was completely understandable, but looking back now after having spent three years and three months in the country, I can’t believe I actually thought I was going to do something, anything, without the use of a vending machine.
This particular one had about thirty buttons, each with some writing and a price. The girl hesitantly pointed to the cheapest button so I just went with that one, hoping that I didn’t just sign up to have a bucket of cold water dumped on me in the alley out back, given the multitude of more expensive options available in a simple little public pool. I was about to head down the hallway the girl indicated when I realized I had forgotten to bring a towel.
Luckily the Japanese just use the English word, so the girl knew exactly what I wanted. And she showed it, confidently pointed to a slightly more expensive button, obviously proud of herself for not having to just guess at my intentions again. So I bought another ticket, got a refund for my original one and headed happily down the hallway.
“!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Or something to that effect—I have no idea how to represent in writing the high pitched, nasal shriek the tiny receptionist sent my way before I had made it three steps. I thought about putting up an audio file of a cat being tortured, but I couldn’t catch one. I also don’t want to get sued for damaging my readers’ eardrums and if your eardrums weren’t being damaged then the audio wouldn’t be very accurate anyway, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. It was painful and stopped me dead in my tracks.
I turned around expecting to see either a creature from a Japanese horror movie or a Korean soap actor, both of which have been scientifically proven to cause Japanese women to emit that very same sound. Instead I saw the girl running toward me with a plastic bag from the big barrel while pointing at me feet. My shoes. I took them off, put them in the bag and finally made it out of the lobby.
The changing room was similar to changing rooms everywhere—several rows of lockers fronted by wooden benches. The only differences were the thick air that now also included cigarette smoke and all the elderly Japanese men in various stages of undress. And the cleaning lady who was skillfully working her mop around feet and between legs with a quick “Sorry for being rude” here and there.
I changed as quickly as one can change out of clothes that are completely soaked through with sweat while breathing a liquid mixture of hot water, chlorine and nicotine and having one’s feet mopped. After changing, I followed my first rule at the public pool, mainly because it was the only rule I was aware of: I took a shower. Taking a shower before entering the pool is absolutely vital to get all the bacteria off your body, just in case filling the pool halfway with chlorine doesn’t do the trick. To be fair, I actually like the shower rule, given how sweaty everyone was. What I didn’t like was the pool’s attempt to save water by replacing it with chlorine.
Photo courtesy of Tomoaki INABA.