They say that in the summer you should think of cold or scary things to keep you cool. Perhaps a ghost story to make you shiver deliciously. Or in these more modern times, you can try going to sleep with the sounds of water dashing down a mountain taki.
To keep myself cool, I go back to the omoide of a very cold winter’s day in January. I’ve woken up and am already shivering in my small apartment which has no central heat and indeed no space heater either. And no hot shower or even a bath at all. It’s 1979 and I’m living at the foot of the mountains in northern Kyoto.
It’s the first week of January and my local sentō has odd hours due to the New Year’s holiday. This morning they have asaburo. This is a rare event since usually the sentō is open from around 3 PM until 11 PM. I’ve never done asaburo before but I’m desperate to warm up. But first I have to get there. I reluctantly crawl out of the futon and get dressed.
The area is rural and has some magnificent old farmhouses. No doubt they all have their own baths and the local sentō is quite a walk away. Snow had been falling and it’s a quiet morning. Peaceful and beautiful–and cold.
I walk out of my apartment building, turn right and head down our tiny street to the intersection of three tiny streets. One leads to Midorogaike. One leads to a bus stop, and the one I need to take leads to Kamigamo Jinja after meandering for some minutes. It’s still very quiet as I pass our tiny grocery that is good for milk and bread. They won’t be opening today since it is still the New Year’s holiday. The road is covered with snow, as are the trees and roofs. It’s a quiet winter wonderland and I’m the only one out.
After walking for about seven minutes, I come to the block that houses a few shops. I breathe in deeply as it seems the soba shop is preparing dashi. There is simply no smell like it. Even today, the smell of dashi brings me right back to this street. The buildings are all old here; I could be back in the Meiji Jidai with this scenery. Maybe even the Edo Jidai. The appearance of a samurai would not be at all jarring.
And after I walk past the soba shop, I’ve come to the bath. And… snap. As soon as I enter the changing area, I feel the warmth from the steamy water.
And I need to stop reminiscing right here because this is all about conjuring up COLD memories this morning. Oops.
- taki – 滝 waterfall
- omoide – 思い出 memory or memories. A word that is used very often in Japan as omoide are considered very precious.
- sentō – 銭湯 public bath. I will probably talk a lot about it in this blog because it was my life for many many years.
- asaburo – 朝風呂 a bath taken in the morning. Traditionally, baths are always in the evening. With the advent of shower heads, the idea of a morning shower was introduced… and at first seemed a little bold. Like, why would you need a morning shower if you had bathed at night? So, when the public bath had asaburo during the week of New Year’s it was very special and different.
- Midorogaike – 深泥池 The name of a pond in Northern Kyoto, but also serves as the name of the area around it. It literally means ‘deep muddy pond.’ Rents were a bit lower there because it was a hangout for ghosts. Really. But it was a nice place to live!
- Kamigamo Jinja – 上賀茂神社 A very famous shrine in the northern section of Kyoto. You could google it.
- dashi – だし a Japanese broth used for miso soup and other cooking. You can buy instant or make your own. If you walk through the streets early in the morning or right before dinner time, you can sometimes smell it cooking. There are so many kinds, but the smell evokes pure deliciousness for me.
- Meiji Jidai – 明治時代 The Meiji Era (1868-1912) By the way, this is an utterly fascinating era since it is when Western culture started to be more prominent in Japan.
- Edo Jidai – 江戸時代 The Edo Era (1603-1868)
- samurai – 侍 I can’t even. You know this. Okay, warrior. Did you really not know this?!