I thought the February rain would be a good excuse not to go to the outdoor "Konyoku" (co-ed) onsen, but naturally I was the only one put out by the weather. Even Hannah's lack of a nap failed as a deterrent. She was unbelievably cheerful, just a little sleepy. Ok, fine. I'll go.
I have the choice to either undress in a communal smokey shack with the men, or in a musty women's locker room. Shyly I choose the locker room. I am greeted by the heady steam of old women in control top underwear and knee-high stockings. Their flushed faces and twinkling eyes attest to the healing effects of the Konyoku. I smile as (topless) they laugh with Hannah and touch her soft cheeks. I touch them too. You will grow up comfortable in your own skin, little girl.
Making my way to the bath on the rainy roof of the hotel, I smile at my friends and show a bold confidence that I don't feel. Hannah squirms under the cold raindrops and I ease her into the hot water next to her father. Having lost my only cover, I quickly follow. We sit there in our 2-foot deep bath of boiling water, rain pelting our faces, skin blushing from . . . the heat. While making small talk about the weather and work we watch pigeons bathe in puddles among the rocks and boulders . I'm only half-listening.
"...wonder if they ever poop in the pool."
"...really would be nice if all those buildings weren't there."
"...guy is showering again. Will he never leave?"
"...think they'll stay another year?"
"Not a chance."
"...you getting out Suzie?"
I am outside of myself. I see a woman who is self-conscious and hates herself for it. She's trying to make a statement - to prove that her body is nothing to be ashamed of. She feels the burdens of Eve, Knowledge, and thousands of years of patriarchy weighing on her naked shoulders, and she wants to crawl under one of the boulders and cry. She wonders what the other men are thinking. She nearly despises their silence.
I take Hannah's wiggling body back into my arms. My warm rosy baby splashes with delight at the freedom of no diapers or onesies. She's in her element, and I envy that. Don't grow up baby. Stay young and dimpled and innocent. Shake off the stereotypes and body-images the world will try to press you to accept. Splash naked in the water forever.