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The Electric Bath!

The camping life meant our body clocks were becoming accustomed to nature’s rhythms again. We awoke with the sun coming up over the hill behind us and had everything packed and ready to go by 7am. Starting early gave us a slight reprieve from the heat later in the day and we were able to walk a good number of kilometers before it got too hot.

As we came into town we were called over to the business of a man who had himself ridden around Japan during his younger years. “Come in for a drink,” he called. Even though we were making good progress, the offer was timely as the heat was just starting to get going.

We were happy to share our stories over drinks at the conference table, the breeze through the window and the friendly chat making leaving a trying proposition. After telling how he had spent his summers during school pedaling his way around Japan, he reached in to his pocket and retrieved two 1000yen notes.

“When I was travelling, I met a man who also stopped me and gave me vouchers for food and drink that probably would have amounted to 2000yen at the time. In return, all he asked was that when the time came, I too should do the same for others who are chasing a dream. So this is for you. Buy some lunch or some drinks. Remember, it’s not about money, it’s about the gesture to look after others.”

In taking his kind offering, we too were acknowledging our responsibility as members of this special kind of traveler’s fraternity. When the time came, we would strive to do our best to look after those who were chasing their dreams. It was a nice responsibility to receive, and one that made us realize that we were not alone. In the end, our successes perhaps wouldn’t be measured by the amount of money that we raised but rather by the number of people that we were able to involve in some way, small or large.

Goshogawara, was a pretty town, big enough to have everything, but small enough to retain some charm. It had made the national news a day earlier for having the second highest university acceptance rate amongst high school leavers in the country. A staggering 85% of high school students successfully went on to further study, revealing a standard of education that seems to be disappearing in the bigger cities of most countries.

After eating and catching up on some much needed washing, we began a frustrating search for phantom hot springs that while clearly written on our maps, were nowhere to be found. Eventually we were directed back toward the direction from which we’d come, a 3km turnaround that seemed much longer on tired legs.

We stumbled in to a bathhouse packed with tourists and locals who had arrived on mass after celebrating the town’s own Nebuta festival. Entering the bathing area, about the only bath that was free from screaming kids or hairless old men was one that was ominously named “Denki Buro” or “the Electric Bath”. Everyone was obviously giving this bubbling pool a wide berth. The logic seemed clear – electricity and water do not mix well. After once surviving a near death experience in an outdoor hot-spring whose wiring became ‘live’ when exposed to the rain, I should have been the one least likely to even consider a bath with such a name. However for some reason, call it exhaustion or stupidity, I felt like throwing caution to the wind. I felt like a bath and if it was going to come complete with timed electric shocks to my buttocks, then so be it. I eased in to the stares of a dozen bemused onlookers, each expecting the worst for this sunburnt, naked foreigner in their midst. As I settled down into position between the electrodes, I was just beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about when my right buttock began twitching uncontrollably. While not painful, it was definitely not a sensation one would call pleasant either, however, as I was caught in a performance before an audience of curious onlookers, I battled hard to maintain my composure in the face of ever strengthening shocks. The twitching had extended across to my other buttock, each one now beating in rhythmic time to an unheard beat. It was at this moment that I noticed a warning list that stretched halfway across the wall in front of me. Perhaps my curious audience, with a stronger grasp of the written language than me, knew something that I didn’t. After what seemed like an eternity I decided I had more than done enough to gain the respect of those around. Besides, my twitching had now reached a tempo that was embarrassing. As I stood slowly from the bath, towel covering my modesty, I half expected a round of applause for my efforts. What I got instead was a row of amused faces, each trying hard not to lose control in front of me. It seemed my muscles were still reacting to their static treatment, however, now they were in plain view for all to see. The ten metres to the change room seemed to take forever as I walked gingerly past all, not knowing which part to cover more with my towel.

It took a good five minutes for the twitching to stop, revealing two bright red patches where the current had entered. It was enough excitement for one day and I fell asleep wondering just what effect it might all have on my stilting style tomorrow.

posted by Mick and Miki Tan @ 5:05 PM,


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