We made arrangements to stay at a ryokan in the historic district of Kurashiki about an hour south of Kobe.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese guest house – rice paper walls, tatami mat floors and futon. They serve your meals in your room and have a communal bath for the guests.
We had no idea what to expect. After a perceptually long transit to Kurashiki we found ourselves dumped along side an ancient looking cobbled roadway surround by old world Japan. Moments later we were sitting at out little wooden table in floor chairs in our traditional old world Japanese room. The smell of green grass mats and tea filled the air. We looked at each other across the table and started laughing. What a bizarre transition from the city to the ryokan.
We both felt super gross from a hot sweaty day of travel and wanted to bath but both of us were daunted by the unfamiliar bath territory we’d have to enter to get what we wanted. To prepare we read the instruction sheet that was left on our table.
I scoped out the bath facilities and came back to Kaety with a recon report. It looked pretty straight forward and no one was there. We could make our mistakes and not be naked at the same time.
By the time we mobilized and I made my way into the bath I noticed another pair of slippers outside the door. Oh well.
Naked mistakes aren’t like other mistakes. They seem a lot more high stakes for some reason.
I managed to get the knobs and dials figured out on the shower mechanism, and I got myself scrunched down to sit on the tiny stool.
Once you get rinsed off you soak in the tub. The Japanese guy sharing the space with me got into the tub ahead of me. I settled in and was starting to relax in the water and tune out when he started up a conversation. We fumbled back and forth for a while playing word lawn darts with each other. I only understood 1 out of 3 things he said and while my racing brain sought comprehension of the missing words I’d leave a staring blank space in the conversation. He was doing the same with me. We did have a moment where he smiled and said, “Japanese bathroom culture is different huh?”. I nodded and laughed.
Naked language barrier isn’t any better than clothed language barrier.