A Japanese Education
(I am indebted to Lillie, who helped me making this story better, and to MissMLane, who tracked the remaining mistakes and typos. Thank you both for your time and patience…)
I spotted Mom right away. It wasn’t that hard: most of the people coming out of the customs zone of Narita airport were Japanese, and Mom certainly didn’t fit the dark-haired, wiry archetype that characterized so many of the passengers of her flight. She was blonde, she was rather tall, and she definitely was buxom — and well, she was my mother, so I guess I was somehow bound to recognize her quickly. Not that there was much of a crowd, considering we were in Tokyo’s primary international airport — after all, it was just a bit before noon on a weekday, and things were going smoothly around us.
We hugged. Mom had a great smile on her face, but I could see she looked tired and had been crying recently. I didn’t say a thing about it, I just smiled back. We just wanted to show how happy we were to see each other again. While right now she was putting on her brave face, I knew she would eventually feel the need to talk, to let it all out and I was more than ready to offer her a shoulder to lean (or cry) on when that was what she needed. I had moved to Japan at the beginning of the year, and I hadn’t been back home since. I had my tickets for the Holidays, since that was the only trip I could afford at the moment, but that was still a few months away. September had just started, and I had been surprised when, less than a week ago, Mom announced me that she had broken up with her boyfriend James, and that she wanted to visit me as she needed a change of scenery to clear her head.
I had only met James a couple of times, the last time for New Years, as I was getting ready for my big adventure. We never really hit it off, but I wasn’t one to judge as long as Mom was happy, and he seemed a nice guy, overall. I had no idea what had happened between him and Mom, but the way she had been talking about him before that dramatic phone call, everything indicated he was much more than a passing fling. Mom must have been devastated, and I was more than determined to help however I could and make sure she enjoyed her stay.
I picked up her luggage and navigated her towards the ‘Narita Express’ counter. We then went down two levels to reach the platform, all the while chatting about her flight, the movies she had watched, and the weather around here. She was a little worried about the time difference, but I assured her it would be fine, especially since she had nothing to do except take care of herself the next few days. I had booked a little trip for us to the hot springs over the week-end, in order to help her relax even more. I had intended that as a surprise, but the trip from Narita to Tokyo proper took over an hour, and I eventually yielded under Mom’s relentless questioning. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned I had anything planned at all.
We eventually made it to my place, a small flat I rented on the outskirts of Shinjuku, the capital’s major business district. I had chosen the place because it was practical, not too far from the big center, but it was certainly tiny by American standards: I had a single six-tatami room (each tatami, a traditional straw mat floor covering, is approximately a 3×6 ft. rectangle. A room of 6 mats would be about a hundred square feet), an adjoining kitchen-living room of roughly the same size, and a two-part bathroom unit with a sink and mirror in the outer room (which also housed my laundry machine), and the usual shower and bath set-up in the inner room (basically, a handheld shower head that hung on the wall with a drain in the floor, next to a deep tub with a thermostat). I didn’t have much stuff, even after nearly nine months of living there, but the place was starting to feel like home, and I didn’t mind the small space. Of course, it was going to be a bit cramped with Mom around, but I already had a few friends over, and it hadn’t been so bad, mainly thanks to my going “Japanese” — in other words, choosing to sleep on the traditional Japanese futon (as Wikipedia puts it, ‘bedding consisting of padded mattresses and quilts pliable enough to be folded and stored away during the day, allowing the room to be used for other purposes’).
Mom was so much excited about discovering where I lived. I’d shown it to her while Skyping when I first moved in, but of course that wasn’t the same. Now, she could and was opening everything, and giggling at the number of Japanese things I had whose function she could only guess at. She didn’t speak a single word of the language, much less read it, and I explained a few things. But I soon realized that she needed to rest a little before we could do anything, so I set up the bed for her (well, the futon), and insisted that she take at least a short nap. I had some shopping to do anyway, so I left her to sleep and went out.
When I came back, the sky was darkening. It was early evening, and Mom was up. She had slept about four hours, freshened up, changed güvenilir bahis into a new outfit, and already looking much better. I stocked the little fridge with the bottles I had purchased, put the other stuff on the kitchen counter, and asked Mom if she was ready to go out for dinner. She flashed me a bright smile, and we were off.
I had chosen to take her for okonomiyaki, a dish that I knew was reassuring for anybody worried about having to survive on a raw fish diet while in Japan. Okonomiyaki is like a big pancake, with a choice of ingredients (vegetables, meat or even cheese) and topped with seaweed, bonito flakes, Japanese mayonnaise and a brown sweet sauce. It is fun to eat, since you prepare it yourself and grill it on a hot plate fitted into the table, and believe me, it is delicious.
It was funny to observe Mom discover all this. I was seeing in her all the wonder that I had felt myself the first time I had come to Japan, when everything was new and mysterious and amazing. It took the better part of the meal and a few drinks before Mom seemed to quiet down, relax, and taking a deep breath, start talking.
“It’s really strange how you can spend time with someone without actually knowing them…” I didn’t say a thing, waiting for her to continue. She sighed, and carried on. “He had been so nice during our first dates, you know? Always the gentleman, not pushing too much… I thought he wanted to take it slow, and well, that was nice. Especially after the series of train wrecks I had gone through…”
My eyes must have widened at this mention, because she noticed and, with a sad smile, explained a little more. “Well, you know, that was during last Fall, I think? You weren’t around much because you were busy organizing everything for the big move, and honestly that’s not the kind of thing I wanted to bother you with. But well, long story short, I had a series of dates that really felt like going through a blooper reel. Things you wouldn’t believe, but that’s for another time… anyways. When I met James, I thought that finally, the dry spell was over. But I was wrong — but was I ever wrong!”
She took a swig of her sake, and I made some non-committal grunt just to let her know I was there and listening. She continued.
“So yes, he was nice, he said he wanted to take it slow, and I didn’t mind. Not at the start, at least, I thought it was sweet he was so respectful. But then I thought he was really taking his time, and then it started to get on my nerves, and then I couldn’t stand it anymore, so much that I ended up confronting him about it. And after nearly ten months we’ve been together, this… spineless excuse of a guy starts rambling about how he just can’t leave his wife now, that they’ve decided to give it another try, and that he’s very sorry but it’s goodbye and no hard feelings, right?”
“Really? I had no idea…”
“Neither did I. But then again, I should have seen the signs way before. I just wanted it to work out, you know, and really thought… (she shook her head)… and all his stuff about religion being important, and not wanting to defile us and all that idiotic blah-blah-blah… how stupid I was…”
“I guess we all are when we’re in love, Mom…”
“True, but well… can’t believe I’ve denied myself for so long. And to think that all of it was for nothing… I’m sorry, baby, I guess I needed to vent.”
“Vent all you like, Mom,” I chuckled. “If it makes you feel better…”
She smiled. “You’re sweet, baby… but I’m good, I needed to explain it to you, and being here — I mean, it doesn’t feel like a fresh start, but it sure is different. And at this moment, different is good.”
I nodded, and we both raised our glasses — to: ‘A New Beginning!’.
I was working over the next few days, and Mom was still suffering from jet lag. As a result, she was still sleeping when I left in the morning, but we saw each other in the evenings, and I took her out to try a couple different little restaurants I knew in the neighborhood. She usually told me of the discoveries of her day, as she did wander around on her own with a tourist guide in hand, and explored some of the most popular districts of the Japanese capital. I tried to explain a bit about how the hierarchy of working in Japan affected me and my job, even though it’s the Japanese subsidiary of a foreign company, which did muddle things a bit. It had been some time since we had lived under the same roof, and in this case said roof was particularly small, but we didn’t mind and very quickly a strong sense of familiarity crept back in.
We left for the hot springs on Saturday morning, and Mom was nearly over her jet lag. It was my first time to the hot springs, and I had to explain how despite having been in Japan for close to nine months now, I rarely traveled outside of Tokyo. The daily routine had a tendency to take over, so I welcomed her coming over here as it gave me an opportunity to discover new things too.
We stopped for lunch at a nice türkçe bahis little restaurant, before heading for the ryokan — a traditional hotel. I had booked a nice place in Hakone, a famous hot spring resort near Mount Fuji. Inside the (modern) building we were met by dark wooden furniture with thick red carpeting in the hallway and numerous little statues of raccoons and assorted local deities. We had a rather large tatami room to ourselves, and luckily for us, indicated the little old lady who served as our guide, there weren’t a lot of customers today, which meant that we could freely use one of the two private baths of the hotel.
“Private baths? What does she mean?” asked Mom.
“Well, usually, the men go to the men’s bath, and the women to the women’s bath. But the private baths are, well, private, and so couples and families can use them without… well, without having to be separated by sex — uhm, gender, so to speak.” I actually blushed.
“Oooh, that’s… nice, I guess.” She started giggling, and seeing me frown, she continued: “Come on, baby, you’re not going to leave me alone in the women’s bath? I don’t speak a single word, and I’m sure to make some sort of unforgivable blunder if you’re not there to explain to me how things are supposed to be…”
I rolled my eyes. “Mom, don’t be ridiculous. You’re a foreigner, a gaijin as they call us, and it shows. So whatever blunder you might make, they’ll immediately forgive you for it.”
“Are you sure? That little old lady seemed awfully strict to me…”
“Not really, I mean…”
She interrupted me, smiling: “Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed to use this private bath with me?”
I hesitated, and she laughed. “Oh baby, come on… you said yourself families use them too, so what are you worrying about? I mean, when in Rome…”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I want to be with you, so we can visit, not be stuck in a tub full of naked women I can’t even talk with. And I certainly didn’t come all the way from the other side of the globe to be spending this vacation on my own, just because my son has suddenly turned into a prude. I’ve had enough of that nonsense to last a lifetime with James, thank you very much. Come on Chris, loosen up, live a little.”
I yielded. “Okay, okay… we’ll try it then, you don’t have to get on your high horse with me.”
“Great! This’ll be so fun! Can we go now, or do we have to wait for the evening or something?”
Despite my reservations, her enthusiasm made me smile. “Aren’t we the impatient one? Yes, we can go now, I suppose. Just grab the towels and the yukatas — yes, those are the bathrobes there — and we can go downstairs.”
The entrance to the private bath was through a very standard-looking sliding door. There was a little tray in which you had to leave the “occupied” sign (painted on a wooden block), and a simple lock on the sliding door. Behind the door was the changing room, and there was another sliding door leading to the bath itself. In the changing room, shelves held several boxes and a pile of clean towels and yukatas for forgetful customers. Mom looked around, and then turned towards me: “So this is where we’re supposed to undress, I gather?” I nodded and smiled, and started taking my clothes off and putting them in one of the boxes. Mom followed suit. The room was narrow and there wasn’t much space to maneuver, but we kept to our separate corners and avoided any accidental contact. I tried not to look too much in her direction, but waited until we were both ready (and as modestly wrapped as possible in one of those super-thin towels provided) before I opened the second door. Mom gasped. “Oh Chris, it’s beautiful!”
Though we were on the ground floor of what was a rather modern ryokan, the bath had been built to look like a natural spring. There were a few artificial rocks on one side with some plants, and the round bath (about six or seven feet across) was lined with dark stones. The air was cool and humid at the same time.
I stepped inside and started to explain: “So Mom, in Japan, you have to clean yourself before you get in the bath.”
She smiled. “That’s an interesting way of doing things. Go ahead, I’ll follow your lead.”
I pulled a low wooden stool and sat (or nearly crouched) on it next to the two shower heads that protruded from the wall. I adjusted the water temperature, and proceeded to wash myself — leaving the shower head running in a large bucket on the floor as I was using the soap.
“O-kay… so that means I have to wait until you’re done?” asked Mom.
“Oh no, you just sit next to me here, and use the shower too. The idea is that you use the bucket to rinse the soap.”
From the corner of my eye I saw Mom sit next to me, and discard her towel. We were both naked and very close, Mom was an attractive lady blessed (or cursed, as she often objected) with a very generous bosom, and I very quickly felt I had to keep my thoughts in check, or I’d end up with an embarrassing hard-on. I poured the content güvenilir bahis siteleri of the bucket over me, and stood up to slide into the bath. The water was really hot, and the sting of it managed to keep my mind away from the tempting curves of Mom’s figure.
Mom joined me a few minutes later — I looked up, by reflex, when she walked to the bath, and quickly looked away. She got in, and let out a sigh of contentment. She smiled at me:
“Baby, this feels soo good… why don’t we have baths like that in the US?”
I looked at her and smiled, very much aware that the water was clear and didn’t hide much. For instance, Mom’s breasts were rather visible, and it was only her lower body that became distorted — but I did my best to avoid noticing all this. As I had done my best to ignore that maybe, Mom had put on a little weight since I had moved to Japan, and while in my opinion her figure had benefited from that, both in the hips and (especially) the breasts department, there was just no good way to compliment it.
“From what I’ve heard, Japan used to have mainly this type of mixed-sex baths. Then came WWII and after that the US occupation, and the people then were horrified that Japanese men and women should be taking baths together. So they changed that and now the very large majority of baths have men on one side, and women on the other.”
“Yeah. I guess the Japanese were a little more relaxed than us on some issues. Do you know that erotic engravings of the 19th century are banned today, even from museums, because of the censorship laws that have been put in place after WWII? Again, laws that were inspired by what we have in the US.”
Mom smiled. “You sure seem to know a lot about that…”
I blushed. “Well, you start living in a country, you get interested in the way it works, you know? Especially with Japan, where things can seem so foreign and different, it’s sometimes a good thing to find out there’s a good reason for it. And sometimes to realize that your own reason to do things differently is not that rational after all.”
She nodded enthusiastically: “Oh, that’s for sure. I’ve been here only a few days, but I definitely encountered situations like the one you describe. It’s fascinating, really.”
I smiled. “Careful, Mom, are you planning to go native?”
She giggled: “And why not? After all, this is a new start for me, right?”
I was the first to exit the bath, since spending too much time in it usually got me very drowsy. Mom soon followed me, as I was drying myself in the changing room. I quickly put on a pair of boxers, and then struggled with the yutaka, trying to get back to something a little more presentable. Mom, on the contrary, didn’t seem to be in a hurry and took her time getting ready. As expected, the yutaka turned out to be a bit tight on her — especially in the chest area, and if she hadn’t put on a tank top under the thin robe, her cleavage probably would have been bordering on the indecent. This way, she was just stunning, and I was glad I was dressed so my reaction was less likely to betray the effect she was having on me.
I had always had a little crush on my mother growing up, like most boys I guess. But that was a thing of the past. So I blamed my reaction on the very unusual situation (as I very rarely saw her in the nude) and on my current abstinent state. I had learned the hard way that Japanese girls didn’t really swarm over any foreigner, contrary to popular belief, and I was still very much girlfriend-less and feeling horny nearly all the time — and Mom did look pretty good, there was no denying that.
That kind of ambiguous feeling was to follow me during the whole week-end. Mom and I had fun: after all, it was the first opportunity for us to spend time together since she had arrived in Japan. Saturday flew by, between that first bath, a visit to the big temple in the forest nearby, then back for another bath before the large dinner (with over 14 courses), and another late-night session. We had to leave before noon, but we managed to take yet another bath after breakfast — Mom was adamant we’d take advantage of the facilities as much as possible, and since the ryokan was fairly empty, it was difficult to say no. In fact, any argument I could have raised against spending so much time in the baths had been rebuked when we were getting back from the temple — Mom even landing a low blow by pointing out I was being a prude and that I should know better. “When in Rome…”, she had said, and there was nothing I could reply to that. She even made fun of my ‘modesty’, telling me she had noticed I kept hiding myself and I seemed afraid to look at her when we were both naked, and that I should grow out of it.
That had been somewhat liberating for me: she was right, I was acting a bit stupid, and I tried to correct that. Maybe I stared a little once or twice when she wasn’t looking, but (thankfully) I managed to keep my ‘reactions’ to a discreet level. With those little awkward moments out of the way, the whole week-end ended up being a great time spent together. We reluctantly headed back to Tokyo, leaving this special place in the mountains for the sprawling city… and, for me, the rather unhappy prospect of going back to work.