I have been dreaming of baths lately.
The really good kind of baths, like those I used to inhabit weekly during my time in Japan. Sentos, onsen, saunas, rotenburo, and even the humble home bath in my Japanese apartment all were such refined and specific places that resonated with experiencing the world, being fresh, and being energized and attuned to moments.
2004 in Japan, I was eagerly exploring all possible baths within reach, and my wife and I also rode our bicycles every weekend to a kind of bathing theme park very near our home. It was a quiet, only slightly popular place that allowed us a way to experience all kinds of waters and temperatures.
Meanwhile now back in America – a land where people confuse convenience stores like Starbucks for cafes, and seem only to take showers, there is not only a lack of baths (public or private) but there seems always to be a reverence for the ‘quick shower’. Water is for cleaning up and getting on to work. It almost never seems to be taken as an end unto itself. This is something that disappoints me.
Bathing is I think an act of thoughtfulness and reflection. A time alone with one’s thoughts to simply be. And it is a chief place for idea creation and consideration. Not in the sense that you have to hop out of the shower and add it to your to-do list, but rather in a languorously lingering way of deliberate and relaxed thoughtfulness.
I miss having long winding – utterly Japanese discussions about the nature of baths and the various effects they have on the skin and the soul. So allow me to get a bit long winding and rambly on baths.
Water is, as Momus points out, a very good drug.
In recourse I have been spending time looking longingly at this listing of the best onsen or japanese public baths by travel site Jalan. I’m never certain if I am doing this to sate myself, or simply wallow in some misery.
These are of course far-away places right now. And although hopefully soon they won’t be so far, I am content to view images. Or no, actually I am not content. I am filled with a deep sense of longing to get to some beautiful mountain onsen, to perhaps sit in one on a snowy Hakone evening, and allow my mind to float with my body. And then later in numb warmth float more with a shared bottle of sho-chu.
This leads me to think of what we can do at our own home. Our quiet little tub is a bit too 1950s and economically engineered to ever be confused for a meditative onsen. Still, possibilities exist, and our next trip to Japan will be a deep research task to come up with ideas as to what can be done in the here and now with our bath.
And this in turn, leads me to think of one of my favorite painter’s Bonnard. Now there is a painter who would know exactly what to do with our bathtub to enjoy it fully. And then of course there are the Bush paintings in the bathroom. If he can find some art and interesting views there, then certainly I have to get to work.
My interest isn’t in painting in the bath though, it is about perfecting an art of bathing. Of simply being in a bath. It will be my new art form, and my new life’s devotion.
At least I would like to imagine so. For now I content myself with cruising youtube for what I think of ‘bath porn,’ but again, it isn’t about what happens in the bath. Simply the bath itself. Sorry to disappoint.