I entered the pool room of the Japanese bath house, through an airlock of glass complete with automatic doors. As a typical Englishman abroad I tried not to feel too uncomfortable standing there completely naked - its not like I’m European, well, at least not a rugby player. My sun-darkened face and forearms were in stark contrast to the rest of my pasty, pale body, which almost glowed as it reflected the lights. The dozen or so Japanese men present all stopped what they were doing. Conversations trailed off and the whole room fell silent as all eyes fell on me. Intimidating, maybe; making me self-conscious, definitely. Greeting their stares with a friendly, “Konnichi wa”, I looked for a spare shower bay to begin my public scrub down. Squatting on a small plastic stool I lathered up with one of the various gels available, before rinsing myself off with the hand held shower head. By the time I had finished, most of the men had moved to the outside bath. There were only a couple of men left and they looked like they were planning to make a move. I wondered if it was my hairy body that bothered the locals. The last chaps decided that discretion was the better part of valor and decamped from the main bath for the sauna. I was alone. The heat of the water was starting to lure me into a drowsy state.
To rouse me from my cosy stupor, and an unexpected 'black mood', I decided to take a dip in the plunge pool. I'd started to remember a night a three years before, brooding, alone, drinking a bottle and a half of good scotch like it was Lambrini, staring into the abyss, nothing to live for; all fear gone at last, feeling cosy, like this, before unconsciousness took me.
I dropped straight in, and, as my head dipped under the surface, I felt the icy cold water refresh me, stinging my skin. Sitting cross-legged on the bottom of the pool, I held my breath as long as I could.
It was good to be alive...