We've spent the last several days at a really awesome sort-of-hotel run by a middle-aged Japanese man and his wife. It's nestled into a valley in the shadow of Fuji, complete with a gigantic, beautiful lake called Lake Yamanakako. The area seems to be one that a lot of Japanese people vacation to as opposed to foreigners, because it's definitely touristy but our group is still very much the minority.
There was the Mishima Yukio Literary Museum (which I wanted to make it to but didn't have an opportunity), a huge flower sanctuary, about a million gorgeous houses, and gardens that blow my puny patch of mint out of the proverbial water. It's an area that I could easily imagine retiring to, when the hustle and bustle of city life is a little too much to handle. In all honesty, the air quality and the type of plants that grow everywhere remind me a lot of Minnesota, which is an awesome thing.
Unfortunately, one of my campers at the last camp succeeded in passing her illness onto me, so I've spent the majority of the last several days lounging about in bed or being a bum and feeling sorry for myself, but what I did get a chance to explore was awesome.
I thought I'd take this opportunity, about halfway through my camp time and a third of the way through my total time in Japan, to share some of the things I've discovered about Japanese society over the last three weeks. If you'd told me a month ago that I'd soon be looking forward to communal baths, you'd have gotten an odd look, at the very least. Now, I can honestly say that communal bathing is one of the things I'm going to miss when I go back to the States.
The baths consist of several shower heads lined up around the wall, and what amounts to basically a giant hot tub in the middle. You shower, and, depending on your time constraints, you soak. The first night was a bit of a shocker, but eventually it's easy to see that the communal shower is an awesome social outlet, a bit like I imagine a closely-knit community hair-dresser would be. It's honestly really enjoyable, and something that I'd love to bring back home with me.
Another thing about Japan that I found quite interesting was the fact that they seem to be both on the cutting edge of toilet technology and at the same time stuck in the dark ages. Several of the bathrooms are outfitted with either Warmlets (toilets with heated seats--awesome) or Washlets (toilets with heated seats and a bidet feature--also awesome). Yes, they do have specific names, because another thing I've learned about Japan is that everything must be made at least passably cute, whatever the cost.
The also have glorified holes in the ground, which our group has deemed "Squatty Potties" but which are apparently called "Turkish Toilets" in polite society. It's difficult to believe that a country can have something as nice as heated-seats in the same facility that they have toilets with no seat at all.
I've also encountered a few problems in terms of household behavior that my average American upbringing didn't really prepare me for. For the most part, my summers consist of as many bare-foot shenanigans I can cram into them, and apparently that's not the way Japanese households work. (Dad, you'd love it--no more stained bathtub) You take your shoes off at the front door, and inside the home you wear your indoor slippers. I've been searching around for a pair, but apparently Japanese women don't have feet as large as mine are so it's been a bit difficult.
It's been a big change--bigger than I thought it would be. I'm not going to claim culture shock, but Japan is definitely a different kind of country. Watching the campers shed a bit of their Japanese hesitation and acting nuts like the counselors has been surprisingly rewarding.