I felt an awkward tingling creeping throughout my body as I slowly padded barefoot to the entrance of the public pool, wearing nothing but a towel around my waist. As I shuffled into the pool area, I reluctantly slipped off my towel, revealing my bare bottom for the whole world to see.
A winter vacation in Japan had led to my poolside antics at a hot springs in the cozy city of Kyoto. My family and I were travelling with a tour group across the land of the rising sun, and when our tour guide announced that we would be staying at a traditional hot springs resort in the old capital, I was ecstatic. Not only would I be enjoying the finest Japanese cuisine while sitting on a Tatami mat, but I also would also have the pleasure of cannon-balling into a relaxing pool while wearing my swim trunks.
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This was all until the tour guide brought my dreams crashing down faster than a building being demolished. For starters, cannon-balling into steamy, hot water with a rocky bottom was only slightly smarter than playing with fireworks, but the biggest predicament was the prohibition of all articles of clothing in the pool area, including bathing suits. As a fifteen-year-old, I had grown accustomed to changing in the boys locker room at school, but the mere mention of going nude in public violated one of those inherent “decency laws” imbedded in every American teenager. Even the small towel seemed more of an insult than a savior, as the only practical application I could think of would be to cover my face with the scrap of fabric to save my dignity.
I found myself standing in the straw-matted changing room, half admiring the bright, amber and red emblazoned walls, half wondering how I managed to convince myself to do this. It was well after dinner, and the pool area was mostly vacant. Nevertheless, I felt like I was nude before a sellout crowd as I slipped off my towel and walked into the interim stage of the hot springs: the cleaning room. Before one can bathe in the hot springs, one must cleanse oneself in the shower. I awkwardly sat down on one of the stools in the showering area, but I did have the comfort of knowing my fourteen-year-old brother was in a similarly discomforting crisis. The chatter between my brother and I helped mask our self-consciousness.
As soon as we walked outside, we were greeted by a lovely nature-like scene before us. The hot springs consisted of an incline made of smooth pebbles to our left, while several small trees formed a half circle along the right side of the pool. The pool itself offered a million-yen view of the nearby lake, and as the three of us slowly slipped into the wonderfully warm, steamy pool, we settled into a comfortable reclining position among the rocks and enjoyed the view. The steam from the pool wafted up into the night sky and illuminated the ripples on the nearby lake. By the time we had finished relaxing and were walking back in to change, I had lost all self-consciousness. It finally occurred to me when I had clothed myself that I had even forgotten to use the iPad-sized towel. I chuckled at the stack of towels as I strode out of the changing rooms, half glowing with pride at the fact that I had overcome a western-rooted barrier, half glowing red from the hot springs, as I had bathed longer than I should have.
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