I burst from the capsule hotel in Narita, Tokyo as the sun rose.
Beside the atrium en route to the trains, small groups of Japanese men smoked silently in the corner of an immaculate courtyard, criss-crossed with gleaming brown tiles. Benches with dual hooded lights, anthropomorphically gazed out at passers-by through drooping eyes. Everything is disarmingly cute here, but to see it simply as this – which many do – would be a trap. Or, at best, a dismal oversight.
Suki had booked me a room at one of the Onsens (hot springs) around Mt. Fuji for the night. I headed out as soon as I could after breakfast.
I chuckled to myself at the conversation I’d had with Noah, an older Australian man, on the morning train to Shinjuku. He’d looked almost fatherly towards me until he asked me what I did for work. Then that paternal gaze shifted into something more familiar – a curious lust that he tried to conceal by meeting my gaze in a most artificial manner, making small talk about what drew me to that line of work.
Was it wrong I teased him a little? Let him knew the kinds of men I tended to work with were older – around his age? That I had a little bit of a soft spot for older, slightly broken things? They were easier to bend, after all, and their larger ears meant perhaps that they could listen better. He put his hand up to the lobe of his ear, caressing it with his fingertips. I could practically feel the ethereal erection rising in his pants. He gave me his number. If you get to Osaka… I’ve got a place. I could find you some room.
I was sure he could. But he needed to be careful with me. Give me an inch, and I’d give him six. To the rear. He seemed too nice. I felt I couldn’t possibly… then he wrote out his number and passed it to me as I stepped out onto the platform. The still drying ink of his proffered digits on the back of a business card sealing a sort of contract between us that I then felt obliged to fulfill. In some way. I told him I’d call, then headed to the bus rank.
The bus pootered it’s way to the Onsen resort by nightfall. The hotel reminded me of the one from the Shining. Outdated opulence from the seventies – grand white pillars and long empty hallways with clocks marking the passage of time in a place where time has stood still. I checked in and dropped off my bags before heading to the public bath.
I undressed and showered as is customary before entering an Onsen. How delicious it felt to wallow in the sybaritic kiss of the warm, fragrant suds melting down the soft contours of my body. From the shower, I opened the sliding door and stepped naked outside, where a brusque wind blew the leaves from the Acer palmatum down into the white zen pebbles below.
My skin pilled with goosebumps. Being naked outside is terrifying in a primal sense. Yet also strangely joyous, enlivening! The steaming waters I slipped myself into were skin-flayingly hot by contrast. They branded my flesh red, inch by inch, until I found my seat. An elder lady bathing near the jets smiled at me as I drew in a sharp breath to acclimatize. I introduced myself.
“Konnichiwa. Watashi wa Katia des… Hajimimashite.”
She laughed then started to chatter to me quickly in Japanese. I understood some, but not all, of what she was saying. After my sixteenth “hai” (“yes”). Her eyes wrinkled into a smile and she pointed up at the mountain – her great tanned breasts bobbing up and down on the jets like mighty islands.
“Fuji-san.” she breathed, pointing to the famous peak that towered above us to the south.
Fuji’s pale peak shone brightly in the crisp late-afternoon sky and we sat in silence for a while. I moved one leg out of the water, watching the steam rise from my smooth, bare skin. The blood was once again circulating my body. The heat between my legs alive again and seeking its excitement. The pure, fresh chill of Fuji air sharpening the calculatedness of my mind. The old lady continued to gaze at me, laughing. She was ancient, but had some strange, quiet strength. Like some mythic chrone speaking in riddles, the meaning of which were lost in the roar of the Onsen bubbles.
I met Suki at 6pm in the queue to the banquet hall. We embraced, then filed into the hall that was already half filled with octagenarions.
Suki waved at someone across the room. It was the naked Onsen lady from earlier. So this lady was Suki’s aunt!
Suki sped across the room to talk with her so I filled my tray with food, then joined them at the table. Suki introduced me to Yama, her aunt, formally.
“Yes, me met in the Onsen earlier.”
Yama started cackling and excitedly profferring more high speed Japanese I struggled to catch. Seeing me ailing, Suki translated.
“She says you look like trouble,” Suki said, “In a good way. She likes you.”
Yama was still talking. She was laughing so much at this point she had the beginnings of tears in her eyes. I heard her use the word Gaijin, which I know is not a term of endearment generally. Suki tutted and gave Yama a stare but Yama just laughed more.
“She said she’s not fooled by that innocent smile and bowing. It’s very respectful though, for a Gaijin. I’m sorry Katia. She’s old, she likes you. She just… speaks her mind.”
I smiled at the old lady, smiling at me. Age before beauty, as my grandmother once told me. I could respect her. The Mother must always bow to the Chrone, after all.
We continued our meal then retired to our rooms. Suki offered to stop by mine once she’d seen Yama to hers. I could hardly wait.