Getting Naked with Yakuza


After Sunday’s funeral we were all feeling emotionally spent. One member of Matsuda-san’s (松田さん) international exchange group had seemed much more worked up than everyone else after Saturday’s ceremony (御通夜). She also came to the funeral (葬式) on Sunday and was really in pain. In a very non-Japanese move, I put my arm on her shoulder and her head collapsed on my shoulder as a river of tears poured out. After the body had been ferried off to the crematorium, she invited me to join her and her husband at some hot springs (温泉); a wonderful way to release some of our stress.

We all chatted in the car on the way to the hot springs. My friend kicked back in the lounge area to ponder our new phase of life without Mr. Matsuda to push us forward. Her husband and I headed for the baths. We went through a process of soaking in hot baths, resting outside on the deck under a blue sky, roasting in saunas, and cooling off in chilled baths. He is a connosieur of hot springs and taught me about a practice of rubbing salt (塩) all over your body. Well, salt is a little abrasive, so we didn’t rub it all over. I was told to apply it liberally and to rub it in. It was a full day, so I’ll have to ask him another time about exactly why we did this. I’m sure it is for some (alleged) health benefit or for smooth skin.

As we sat out on the deck I pondered two things: did anyone in the high-rise apartment next door have a camera; and how wonderful Matsuda san is. Watching the few wispy white clouds waft and twist across the pale sky was a great way to empty my mind and focus on what transpired over the weekend.

Several fellow bathers had the yakuza (やくざ) feeling about them and I wondered about this in the back of my mind. Suddenly, an older man entered the bath, and there was little doubt of his affiliation. Below the neck, above the elbows, and above the knees, everything except his belly was tattooed. The design was predominantly a huge dragon (龍). Where the tattoo came around the hips and over the shoulders the design had a smooth round terminus. This was a unique experience and I wish I had a camera with me. Of course, we don’t normally carry cameras into the bath and I’m not sure a yakuza head would be a willing model.

Most baths have rules posted, stating that tattoos (入墨) are prohibited. I asked my guide about the tattooed man and he said that some spas forbid tattoos (禁止) and some merely request that guests with tattoos refrain from entering (遠慮). Apparently that means something different to each person.


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